The other day I was sort of listlessly riffling through one segment of the ol' vinyl collection, and I came across the Neil Young album Time Fades Away. I had forgetten that I owned it, or wasn't sure if I still had it, or something. I'm glad I still do. Upon listening to it for the first time in many a moon I realized that it’s one of his best. No, I’m serious, it really is. I know, you have your Harvest adherents and your hipper-than-thou Tonight’s the Night proselytizers, and, I dunno, there are a bunch more that could be considered, and perhaps Time Fades Away is really just for Neil freaks, but I think it’s probably the one that cemented his “ragged but right” image in the rock 'n roll pantheon, and it’s brilliant, that’s all. One thing I’ve always loved about Neil is the fact that his singing and his guitar playing are both so expressive. You listen to his cracked, croaky voice and are moved; then he starts playing a solo and you’re moved all over again, but in a slightly different way. This record came out on the heels of Harvest, and it’s often referred to as one of the “Ditch” albums (the others being On the Beach and Tonight's the Night) , a reference to his quote about how he was in the middle of the road and got bored so he headed for the ditch (where things were more interesting, I guess). I’m not sure about interesting, but the passing of friend and Crazy Horse guitar player Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry certainly were devastating things to try to deal with. And then of course there were the usual r 'n r issues of drugs, alcohol, Crosby, Stills & Nash (C & N appear on the album) and the other prickly characters involved in his life and career. TFA is made up of new songs that were all recorded live when Neil decided to go out on the road with the band he called the Stray Gators. Apparently it was one chaotic and difficult tour, and you can hear it in the songs. For a number of reasons (sound quality being one) it’s never been put out on cd. The record includes a cool poster-sized sheet of hand-written (presumably by Neil) lyrics and credits.
I’m including four of the eight songs on the record. I like Jack Nitzche’s nifty little piano riff on the title track, and the way Neil pronounces “February” in “Journey Thru the Past” (and the fact that it’s “thru” and not “through”). He really sounds unhinged, in a good way, during “Yonder Stands the Sinner” (another great title, by the way). The between-song banter (“This'll be kinda experimental”) tickles me. One couplet from “Don’t Be Denied” has been going around in my noggin all day, for some reason:
But I’m a pauper in a naked disguise
A millionaire through a businessman’s eyes
It's baffling to me that he chose not to include any of these songs on the three-disc collection Decade. But I guess that's just Neil being Neil.
The other two acoustic songs are from Four Way Street, the live album he did with CS&N. They’re just great versions, I almost prefer them to the originals. And again, Neil’s commentary on “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” is funny and endearing.