Gov’t Mule Rule With Powerful Pink Floyd Set

Southern jam rockers and Avett Brothers bring their summer tour to central NJ

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When I told a good friend from Germany the other day that I was going to see Gov’t Mule for a Dark Side Of The Mule show, he had the same initial reaction I had a few weeks ago: What’s a southern rock band got to with Pink Floyd? And why would such distinguished musicians with plenty of own material devote an entire gig to the British psychedelic rockers? Well, because not only does Mule dig great music, but they also like to celebrate it during their own shows. In fact, they always have done so since they were founded in late 1994, though thus far, Pink Floyd is the only band to whom they dedicated an entire show.

As I previously wrote, Mule first introduced the concept in 2008 in Boston when they added a second set to their set of original tunes, which solely consisted of Floyd covers. They repeated it at the Mountain Jam music festival in 2015. And now the band is doing this dedicated show for the third time during a short co-headlining summer tour with The Avett Brothers – something I didn’t want to miss as a huge Pink Floyd fan, especially since one of gigs was happening right in my neck of the woods at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J. last night. Based on Mule’s corresponding live album, my expectations were high – and boy did they deliver!

The Magpie Salute

But first things first. The evening was opened by American rock band The Magpie Salute, which was formed in October 2016 by guitarist Rich Robinson, a co-founding member of The Black Crowes. He pretty much co-wrote all of their songs with his brother and lead vocalist Chris Robinson. I didn’t know any of the band’s songs but liked what I heard. Their remaining current lineup includes two other former Black Crows members, Marc Ford (lead guitar, vocals) and Sven Pipien (bass, backing vocals), as well as John Hogg (vocals, percussion), Matt Slocum (keyboards) and Joe Magistro (drums). The Magpie Salute currently have one live album out from 2017 and are set to release their studio debut High Water I on August 18, 2018. I’ll definitely keep that on my radar screen.

The Avett Brothers
The Avett Brothers: (from left to right) Bob Crowford, Joe Kwon, Scott Avett and Seth Avett

Next came The Avett Brothers, a band that except for its name I hadn’t known. To get a sense of what to expect, I checked setlist.fm for the first date of the tour. It didn’t help much, since they made many changes to their set last night! The band’s core members include brothers and multi-instrumentalists Seth (vocals, guitar, etc.) and Scott Avett (vocals, banjo, etc.), Bob Crawford (double bass, bass, etc.) and Joe Kwon (backing vocals, cello, piano, etc.). The current touring lineup is complemented by Mike Marsh (drums) and Tania Elizabeth (violin, vocals, kazoo).

The origins of The Avett Brothers date back to the late 1990s when Seth’s high school band Margo combined with Scott’s college rock outfit Nemo. After Nemo had released three albums, Seth and Scott started The Avett Brothers as a side project, playing acoustic music with some friends. Eventually, this resulted in the release of an EP, The Avett Bros., in 2000. Their fist full-fledged studio album Country Was appeared in 2002. To date, the band has released eight additional studio records, three additional EPs and four live albums. I was impressed with the craftsmanship and warmth they used to deliver their music, which blends folk, bluegrass, Americana and indie rock. I didn’t record any video, but here’s a YouTube clip of a tune they did last night: Down With The Shine, from The Carpenter, their seventh studio album released in September 2012.

And then it was time for Mule to rule, and boy they certainly did! While like The Avett Brothers they mixed things up compared to the tour’s opening night, they kept the same format.

Gov't Mule 2018
Gov’t Mule (left to right): Danny Louis (keyboards), Matt Abts (drums), Jorgen Carlsson (bass) and Warren Haynes (guitar)

After kicking off their set with two original songs, it was on to mighty Pink Floyd. Last night, the original tunes included Thorazine Shuffle and Banks Of The Deep End, from the Dose (February 1998) and The Deep End, Vol. 1 (October 2001) studio albums, respectively. Here’s Thorazine Shuffle, a co-write by Mule co-founding members Warren Haynes and Matt Abts.

Following their two original songs, Mule launched into a transitional instrumental that blended into One Of These Days, from Meddle. Floyd’s sixth studio album from October 1971 happens to be one of my favorites. All for a sudden, it felt like the band had kicked up the intensity by a few notches. The song’s bass line came across like a furious jack hammer – since I didn’t anticipate it and didn’t want to start recording after it had started, unfortunately, I missed capturing that one.

After this powerful rendition of the first Pink Floyd tune of the night, Mule kept their foot on the gas. Next came Echoes, another gem from Meddle and perhaps my all-time favorite Floyd track. Again I didn’t record that one, figuring if my arms wouldn’t fall off holding my smartphone, the device would probably run low on battery power, given the length of the tune! Next it was on to a series of songs from Dark Side Of The Moon, my favorite Floyd album released in March 1973. Here’s The Great Gig In The Sky, featuring Mule’s outstanding backing vocalists

In addition to Dark Side Of Moon and Meddle, Mule also heavily drew from Wish You Were Here, another Floyd gem and the follow-on to Dark Side, which came out in September 1975. Here’s Welcome To The Machine.

Before playing some additional tunes from the Dark Side and Wish You Were Here albums, Mule threw in Nile Song from More, Floyd’s first soundtrack and their third studio release from June 1969. Then it was time for the cash register to ring with Money, another track from Dark Side. Again, I thought the band did a great job with the tune, especially the saxophonist who killed it!

The epic Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V) rounded out Mule’s regular set. Like on the Dark Side Of The Mule album that I previously reviewed here, this was the track where the band took the most artistic freedom, especially Haynes on lead guitar. And just like on that record, I thought he did a nice job, so the deviations didn’t bother me at all. No Pink Floyd show would be complete without Wish You Were, which the band threw in as the encore.

As mentioned at the outset, I thought Mule’s show last night was outstanding. But, as I also noted before, Dark Side Of The Mule is not a note-by-note rendition of Floyd’s music. I imagine not all hard core Floyd fans may like the artistic freedom Mule occasionally takes. As a former hobby musician, I can fully appreciate that artists want to add a little bit of their own flavor when playing covers. If you feel the same and dig Pink Floyd, this show is for you, if you live in the right corners of the country. There are only four remaining dates: Xfinity Center, Mansfield, Mass. (today, Jul 14); Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center, Noblesville, Ind. (Aug 23); Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, Tinley Park, IL (Aug 24); and DTE Energy Music Theatre, Clarkston, MI (Aug 25). But there is always hope for additional dates, though Mule’s summer 2018 tour schedule looks dense through the second half of September.

Sources: Wikipedia, setlist.fm, Mule official website, YouTube

Neil Young Triumphantly Returns To Boston

Solo set at Wang Theatre spans various decades

“One of my first solo shows was in the Wang Theater, then called the Music Hall,” wrote Neil Young on his website in May, talking about his 2018 solo tour that officially ended last night with the second of two dates at the landmark venue in Boston’s Theatre District. “It’s a real beauty folks – a chapel of soul and music. I hope it still sounds as good as it did then and that I do too!” While I wasn’t around when Young played Music Hall in January 1971, I saw him at Wang Theatre on Wednesday night, the first of his two concerts there, and he surely sounded amazing to me!

Wang Theatre
View of Wang Theatre auditorium from stage

Young was right. The venue is pretty impressive. Take a closer look at the above photo, and you can see the rich ornaments and decorative painting. In addition to its looks, he certainly also well remembered the Wang Theatre’s acoustic, which was great.

While it must be about 40 years ago that Young entered my radar screen with Heart Of Gold, I had never been to one of his shows. When I read about his solo tour a few months ago and noticed it would bring him to Boston, it didn’t take long for me to decide that seeing him was worth a five-hour drive from my house, especially given the tour only had six dates: Two in each Chicago and Boston, and one in each Detroit and St. Louis.

Neil Young

But before I further get to Young, I’d like to acknowledge William Prince, a folk and country singer-songwriter, who like Young hails from Canada. Punctually at 8:00 PM, he walked on stage with just an acoustic guitar and opened the night. Prince is a member of the Pegius First Nation from Manitoba.

In 2015, he released his debut album Earthly Days, for which he won a Western Canadian Music Award for Aboriginal Artist of the Year in 2016 and the 2017 the Juno Award for  Contemporary Roots Album of the Year. From that album, here’s Breathless. The look and feel of the performance, which apparently was captured in December, is very similar to Wednesday night. I thought his voice and guitar-playing sounded really nice. Visit his website for more information.

And then it was time for Young. To get an idea what to expect, I checked the previous shows from the tour on setlist.fm. I noticed the sets were relatively constant and included a mix of well-known songs and other tunes that at least to me were deeper cuts. A friend of mine, who is a Neil Young connoisseur and the lead vocalist in an excellent Neil Young tribute band, thought it was a selection for longtime fans.

The stage setup looked a little like a music workshop. It featured areas with different instruments, including an array of acoustic guitars, a semi-hollow electric guitar, two grand pianos and two organs. Young also had multiple harmonicas on hand. During the show, he shared anecdotes about most of the instruments. For example, one of the grand pianos was from the 19th century, and the bottom had been burned during a fire. Young maintained this gave it a very unique sound, adding this tour was the first time he took it on the road. He also pointed to guitars that had once been owned by Stephen Stills and Hank Williams.

Time for some music. I tried capturing some of the songs, and while the audio came out okay, the quality of the video varies quite a bit. The latter was due to challenging lighting conditions and my seat up on the balcony in the back of the theater. There was also what looked like an illuminated stripe in the background above the stage. I’m wondering whether this may have been done on purpose to discourage taking videos, which officially was strictly forbidden.

While I get they don’t want flash photography, I generally find these “no video rules” complete nonsense. Unless you walk in with a professional camera that enables you to record footage you could sell, what damage are you going to do with clips taken with a smartphone? On the contrary, in my opinion, taking and posting such clips on Facebook or elsewhere actually helps promote the artist. Okay, I’m stopping going off on a tangent now. The following is a combination of my own clips and footage from other recent solo gigs.

First up: Pocahontas, a song by Young that first appeared on the Rust Never Sleeps live album from July 1979. Initially, he recorded a version of the tune in the mid-70s for Chrome Dreams, a then-planned but unreleased album.

Ohio was the only Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young tune Wednesday night and one of two songs Young played on the electric guitar. Written by him in the wake of the Kent State shootings on May 4, 1970, the track was released by CSNY as a single in June that year. It was also included on the band’s 4 Way Street live album from April 1971 and the studio compilation So Far, released in August 1974. The tune also appeared on Young’s solo compilation albums Decade (Oct 1977) and Greatest Hits (Nov 2004).

A highlight of the show and perhaps my favorite moment of the night was After The Gold Rush. Young played the title track of his third studio album from September 1970 on a pipe organ. The church-like sound was just incredible. He slightly updated the lyrics by singing, Look at mother nature on the run in the 21st century/Look at mother nature on the run in the 21st century. The performance was incredibly powerful and gave me the goosebumps!

Among Young’s more recent tunes was Love And War. He recorded the song for his 30th studio album Le Noise, which appeared in September 2010. This clip was captured at his June 28 show in St. Louis.

Young finished his regular set with two gems from Harvest, his fourth studio album released in February 1972: The Needle And The Damage Done and Heart Of Gold. Unfortunately, the following clip of Needle, shot in Chicago on July 1, is cut in the beginning but otherwise 10 times better than my attempt to film it.

Here’s the mighty Heart Of Gold. Young may be getting old (though he sounded great!), but not the song.

Young came back for one encore: Tumbleweed, a tune from the deluxe edition of his 34th studio album Storytone from November 2014. He performed it with a ukulele. This clip is from the above St. Louis clip.

For now, Young’s second gig in Boston last night marked the final show of his solo tour. In September, he is scheduled to perform back-to-back at Farm Aid (Hartfort, Conn., Sep 22) and, together with Promise Of The Real, at another Willie Nelson event (Saratoga, N.Y., Sep 23).

Sources: Wikipedia, Neil Young official website, William Prince official website, setlist.fm, YouTube

 

What I’ve Been Listening To: Johnny Hathaway/Deep Cuts And Bruises

New Jersey singer-songwriter’s debut album presents nice mix of melodic rock and acoustic songs

Oftentimes, I complain how terrible most of today’s music is and how true craftsmanship seems to be a matter of the past. Modern technology makes it possible that artists no longer need to know how to play an instrument; heck, they can even get away with mediocre vocals, since you can pretty much correct anything with computers. But what I really mean is the majority of music dominating today’s charts. However, as I’ve realized time and again, fortunately, there is more to the picture.

Good music is still out there, but since it is largely gone from the mainstream, it is harder to find. A great example is John (Johnny) Hathaway, a singer-songwriter from Asbury Park, N.J. I met John last September at Colts Neck Rockfest in Colts Neck, N.J., where he was performing with his excellent Neil Young tribute band Decade. I dig Young, so we started chatting about Neil and John’s band. I’ve since been to various other of their gigs. But it was only recently that I realized John is also writing his own music and released his debut album Deep Cuts And Bruises in April 2016.

John Hathaway

Recently, I went to a solo performance by John at The Acoustic Singer-Songwriter Series,  a live performance series by a rotating lineup of New Jersey singer/songwriters and acoustic musicians, organized by Rick Barth, another Jersey singer-songwriter. Rick is a great guy. His singer-songwriter series is a nice opportunity for up- and coming artists to perform their music in a nice, relaxed and relatively low pressure atmosphere. He also has an album out, which I’m planning to review separately.

John told me since he didn’t have a band at the time, he pretty much produced Deep Cuts And Bruises by himself at home with a 24-track machine. Except for drums and percussion, which were played by Ken Biedzynski, and lap steel guitar on one track by Mike Flynn, John played all of the instruments himself, including acoustic and electric guitars, bass, mandolin and harmonica. There are also various guest vocalists. Given that only the mastering was done at a professional studio, the sound is great; frankly, if you didn’t know, you’d never guess you’re essentially listening to a home-produced record. Time to get to some music!

Here is the album’s opener Release Me, a nice rocker with a catchy chorus.

Another rock-oriented song and one of my favorite tunes on the album is Ride Along. I really like the guitar sound on this track, which also has a strong chorus.

Two Days From Tucson is one of the acoustic tracks on the record. It has a nice, relaxed, rootsy and country vibe to it. Backing vocals are provided by Pam McCoy.

Another acoustic standout is Real Men. The singing is beautiful, featuring alternating lead vocals between John and Linda King, who also provides backing vocals. Flynn sets nice pedal steel guitar accents.

From Deep Within is a mid-tempo melodic rock-oriented tune. In particular, I like the harmony guitar parts that are reminiscent of Boston – and it’s safe to assume all of it done without the sound technology of wizard Tom Scholz!

The last tune I’d like to highlight is the title track, another gem on the record. This song has great dynamic, with a grungy main section nicely framed by a low start and end with mandolin.

Other guest vocalists on Deep Cuts And Bruises include Lisa Barone, Wendy Horn, Laura Catalina Johnson and Sandra Huth. The album was mastered by Dave Florio at Sound Cave Studios in Sayreville, N.J. The record is available on Spotify.

While John hasn’t started work on another album, he told me he has about 60 songs, which sounds like a good quantity to me. I’m pretty sure we’ll hear more recorded music from him at some point.

Sources: John Hathaway Facebook page, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young/4 Way Street

As oftentimes seems to happen lately, this post was inspired by a coincidence – earlier this week, I spotted 4 Way Street by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in my Apple Music album suggestions. While I had been aware of the record (and somewhere still must have a taped recording on music cassette!), unlike Déjà Vu, it had pretty much exited my radar screen. But it didn’t even take the 34 seconds of the opener Suite: Judy Blue Eyes to remind me what a killer album it is. As such, it felt appropriate to dedicate the 50th installment of the What I’ve Been Listening To feature to this gem.

Originally released in April 1971 as a double LP, 4 Way Street captured music from a turbulent 1970 U.S. tour CSNY conducted after the release of Déjà Vu in March that year. It includes material from gigs at Fillmore East (New York, June 2-7), The Forum (Los Angeles, June 26-28) and Auditorium Theatre (Chicago, July 5). CSNY were at a peak both artistically and in terms of tensions between them. Unfortunately, the latter proved to be unsustainable, and they broke up right after the recording of the album.

CSNY 1970
From left to right: Graham Nash, David Crosby, Neil Young and Stephen Stills at Fillmore East, New York, 1970

Of course, CSNY never were a traditional band to begin with, but four exceptional singer-songwriters who ended up playing together, mostly as CSN, with Young becoming an occasional fourth member. Each already had established himself as a member of other prominent bands: Crosby with The Byrds, Stills and Young with Buffalo Springfield, and Nash with The Hollies. Additionally, Crosby had released his first solo album, while the prolific Young already had two solo records out – his eponymous debut and the first album with Crazy Horse.

Given their history and egos, it’s not a surprise that CSNY wasn’t meant to last. But while it was going on, it was sheer magic. Apart from Déjà Vu, I think this live album perfectly illustrates why, so let’s get to some music!

First up: Teach Your Children, undoubtedly one of the best known CSNY songs, first appeared on the Déjà Vu album. The tune was written by Nash when he was still with The Hollies.

Triad is a song Crosby wrote while working with The Byrds on their fifth studio album The Notorious Byrd Brothers. Although they recorded the song and performed it during a live gig in September 1967, it didn’t make the record. Crosby ended up giving it to Jefferson Airplane, and they included it on their fourth studio album Crown Of Creation from September 1968. Perhaps even more intriguing than the tune is listening to Crosby’s announcement.

Chicago is a song by Nash, which he dedicated to Richard Daley, who was then the city’s powerful mayor. It’s about anti-Vietnam war and counter-cultural protests around the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and the ensuing federal charges against eight protesters who became known as the Chicago Eight for conspiracy to incite a riot. Nash also included the tune on his debut solo album Songs For Beginners, which was released in May 1971.

Cowgirl In The Sand is one of Young’s great early songs, which initially appeared on his second studio album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, the first of many he recorded with his backing band Crazy Horse. Songfacts points out the liner notes to Young’s 1977 compilation album Decade explain that he wrote Cowgirl In The Sand, together with Down By The River and Cinnamon Girl in a single afternoon while being sick with a 103 degree temperature – it’s quite amazing what a fever can do!

The last tune on the first LP of 4 Way Street is Still’s Love The One You’re With, which also concludes CSNY’s acoustic set. The song became the lead single to Stills’ eponymous debut album from November 1970. It climbed all the way to no. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it his biggest hit single.

The second LP of 4 Way Street captures songs from CSNY’s electric rock-oriented set. Long Time Gone is a tune by Crosby, which was included on CSN’s eponymous studio debut from March 1969. Not that Déjà Vu would have needed any additional strong tunes, but it would have been a perfect fit for that album as well!

Southern Man is another classic by Young, which he included on his third studio album After The Gold Rush released in September 1970. Together with Alabama from his follow-on record Harvest, it triggered a response by Lynyrd Skynyrd with southern rock anthem Sweet Home Alabama. While that tune explicitly tells him to take a hike, the band and Young were actually mutual fans, and there never was a serious feud between them. Young in his 2012 autobiography Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream said his words in Southern Man were “accusatory and condescending, not fully thought out, and too easy to misconstrue.”

While with so much great material on the album I could easily go on and on calling out tunes, the last track I’d like to highlight is Carry On. Written by Stills, it’s another gem from Déjà Vu. Like Southern Man, the take of Carry On on 4 Way Street is an extended version.

4 Way Street’s musicians include Crosby (vocals, guitar), Stills (vocals, guitar, piano, organ), Nash (vocals, guitar, piano, organ), Young (vocals, guitar), Calvin “Fuzzy” Samuels (bass) and Johnny Barbata (drums). The album was produced by CSNY. In June 1992, an expanded CD version appeared, which was produced by Nash and included four solo acoustic performances, one by each artist.

Like Déjà Vu, the record topped the Billboard 200. It was certified Gold by RIAA just a few days after its release. On December 18, 1992, U.S. sales hit 4 million certified units, giving it 4X Multi-Platinum status. Unlike Déjà Vu, interestingly, the album didn’t make Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time.

Sources: Wikipedia, Songfacts, YouTube

Clips And Pix: Paul McCartney/Mother Nature’s Son

This clip felt right to post on Earth Day. Usually, I try to keep this a “happy” blog and stay away from social issues. No matter where one stands politically, preserving our planet shouldn’t be about politics in the first place. But sadly this country continues to be more divided than ever. And, as mind-boggling as it is in the 21st Century, there are still folks out there who believe climate change is a hoax or that mankind can somehow beat the laws of chemistry, physics and biology – and most of it for selfish short-term gain!

Anyway, to get back to music, according to Songfacts, Paul McCartney wrote Mother Nature’s Son after listening to a speech from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India, where The Beatles were attending a camp to learn transcendental meditation. McCartney recorded the tune by himself in two sessions on August 9 and 20, 1968. It was included on the “White Album,” The Beatles’ ninth studio record that appeared in November 1968.

In October 2008, McCartney told Mojo magazine the song was influenced by Nature Boy, a Nat King Cole standard from 1948. “At that time I considered myself a guy leaning towards the countryside,” he reportedly said. “But I would have to tip a wink to Nature Boy. Though, when you think about it, the only thing they have in common is the word ‘nature’- the rest of the link is pretty tenuous.”

Sources: Wikipedia, Songfacts, YouTube

On This Day In Rock History: February 18

1959: Ray Charles recorded What’d I Say at Atlantic Records in New York City. Written by Charles, the R&B classic evolved from an improvisation during a concert in December 1958. At the end of that show, Charles found himself with some time to fill and reportedly told his female backing vocalists The Raelettes, “Listen, I’m going to fool around and y’all just follow me.” Fooling around paid off nicely. Following its release in July that year, the tune became Charles’ first gold record. One of the challenges with the song was its original length of more than seven and a half minutes, far longer than the usual two-and-a-half-minute format for radio play. Recording engineer Tom Dowd came up with the idea to remove some parts and split up the song in two three-and-a-half-minute chunks: What’d I Say Part I and What’d I Say Part II. The division relied on a false ending after the orchestra had paused the music.

1965: Tired Of Waiting For You by The Kinks hit no. 1 on the UK Singles Chart. Written by Ray Davies, the tune was a single from the band’s second studio LP Kinda Kinks, which appeared in March that year. Notably, The Kinks only had two other chart-topping singles in the UK during their long career: You Really Got Me (1964) and Sunny Afternoon (1966). According to Songfacts, Davies wrote the tune while studying at Hornsey School of Art in London. Since by the time The Kinks went into the studio he couldn’t remember the lyrics, the band initially only recorded the backing track. Davies ended up writing the words on the train the following day while heading back to the studio.

1967: The Buckinghams topped the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 with Kind Of A Drag, the Chicago sunshine pop band’s only no. 1 hit. The tune was written by Jim Holway, who is  also best known for this accomplishment. The band, which had formed the previous year, became one of the top-selling acts in 1967, according to Wikipedia. But their chart success was short-lived and they disbanded in 1970, which I suppose is, well, kind of a drag! On a more cheerful note, they re-emerged in 1980 and apparently remain active to this day. Here’s a clip of the lovely tune.

1972: Neil Young’s fourth studio album Harvest was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), only less than three weeks after its release on February 1. It features some of Young’s best known songs, including Heart Of Gold, Old Man and The Needle And The Damage Done. James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash were among the impressive array of guest musicians. Harvest topped the Billboard 200 for two weeks and became the best-selling record of the year in the U.S. As of June 27, 1994, the album has 4x Multi-Platinum certification. Here’s a clip of The Needle And The Damage Done.

 

Sources: Wikipedia, This Day in Music.com, Songfacts Music History Calendar, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Neil Young & Promise Of The Real/ The Visitor

Not ready to fade away, Young is still feisty after more than five decades

Oftentimes, I enjoy blogging about music the most when it’s spontaneous! This morning, I had no idea I would end up writing about Neil Young’s latest studio album. While if anything I now dig the man more than ever, it’s probably fair to assume we’ve seen his finest work. I mean how can you possibly trump gems like Harvest, Live Rust and Harvest Moon, to name three of his albums that come to my mind right away?

So how the heck did I end up with The Visitor? While listening to The Rolling Stones’ Exit On Main Street during breakfast, which BTW is great music for waking up, I was looking at Facebook pictures from Decade, a Neil Young tribute band I really like. Readers of the blog will probably remember the name, since I’ve covered them on various previous occasions.

Decade had their first gig of the year last night, which I unfortunately missed. So I gave a thumbs-up to the nice photos and lead guitarist Joey Herr’s red SG, one of the coolest looking Gibson models, in my opinion. I also told them their Facebook post made me feel like putting on some Neil. And so I did. Blame Apple Music for showing me The Visitor first as the “Latest Release!”

Neil Young & Promise Of The Real

Leading up to the appearance of Young’s 39th studio album on December 1, 2017, I had casually listened to Already Great, one of two singles that came out prior to the record. While I didn’t think it was a bad tune, frankly, I wasn’t very impressed either. So when queuing up The Visitor after I was done with Exile this morning, I didn’t have particularly high expectations. To say it right upfront, the record isn’t on par with the above named albums. Yet, I was still pleasantly surprised that after 50-plus years in the music business, it’s obvious that Young has fire left in the belly!

The Visitor kicks off with the grungy sounding Already Great. When Young sings, Woke up this morning/Thinking ’bout you/And your new deal/(My American friend), there is no doubt who he is referring to. The song’s chorus also leaves no ambiguity how Young feels about the U.S.: Already great/You’re already great/You’re the promise land/You’re the helping hand. Credited to him and producer John Hanlon, it’s safe to assume the lyrics won’t endear him to all Americans, which is also true for the remainder of the record. But Young has always been outspoken (think Southern Man, for example), so I doubt he’ll get sleepless nights over it.

As I started listening to the acoustic Almost Always, I was like, ‘wait a minute, I know this melody.’ It didn’t take me long to figure it out: From Hank To Hendrix, one of my favorite tracks from the Harvest Moon album. And before I knew it, another piece from that record popped up: part of the guitar theme from Unknown Legend – kind of clever how Young mixed the two! Again, when it comes to the lyrics, it’s pretty clear what he is talking about: And I’m living with a gameshow host/Who has to brag and has to boast/’Bout tearing down/The things I hold dear.

Stand Tall is another grungy rocker. The lyrics take on the science deniers and the sad fact that their ignorance is now endorsed at the highest levels of power: Boy king don’t believe in science/It goes against the big money truth/This playpen is full of deniers/To flush our future down the tubes.

Perhaps the most peculiar track on the album is Carnival. It starts with Young laughing like he’s lost his mind. Then he describes what sounds like memories of a past visit to a carnival. Bongos and background vocalists singing carnival, carnival give the tune a Latin feel. Young also throws in elements of carnival music. It’s a somewhat weird and catchy tune at the same time. Listen for yourself!

And just when you think you’ve basically figured out the record, Young throws in a blues called Diggin’ A Hole.

The last track I’d like to call out is Children Of Destiny, the record’s lead single that was released on July 4, 2017. The timing certainly wasn’t a coincidence. It feels like a companion to Already Great and that Young essentially is saying it’s up to the young generation to keep the country that way: Stand up for what you believe/Resist the powers that be/Preserve the land and save the seas/For the children of destiny/The children of you and me.

Unlike the Shocking Pinks, a band made up for Young’s 1983 studio album Everybody’s Rockin’, Promise Of The Real is, well, a real band. Its members are Lukas Nelson (vocals/guitar), Anthony Logerfo (drums), Corey McCormick (bass) and Tato Melgar (percussion). Lukas is a son of Willie Nelson, the country music legend. Also playing on the album is Willie’s second son from his current marriage, Micah Nelson. Promise Of The Real also backed Young on his 36th studio album The Monsanto Years, which came out in 2015, and the tour that supported the record.

Is The Visitor likely to get Young new listeners? I doubt it – in fact, given how divided the country is, it may actually piss off some of the folks who have enjoyed listening to him in the past. While this album certainly feels more political than most of Young’s previous records, his true fans have always known that he doesn’t shy away from expressing his opinions. I’m definitely a part of that group. And I love the fact that Young still embraces these lines he composed many moons ago: My my, hey hey/Rock and roll is here to stay/It’s better to burn out/Than to fade away/My my, hey hey.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube