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(Above: Neil Young, his wife Pegi and the late Ben Keith perform “Long May You Run.”)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Pity the Kindle reader or Web surfer. The computer screen is still years away from capturing the depth and richness in the pages of “Long May You Rung,” Daniel Durchholz and Gary Graff’s new illustrated history of Neil Young.

Much of the book’s information will be familiar to longtime fans. What makes “Long May You Run” a treasure, however, is its presentation. Read about Young’s high school days at Kelvin Technical School in Winnipeg, and a photo of the school and two yearbook photos are right there alongside the text. Concert photos, tour programs and magazine covers all accompany entries on the myriad of Young’s tours. These and other similar visual clues that populate the book help put the events in context.

Also handy are the sidebars that detail Young’s sidemen, producers and female collaborators, his film career, favorite guitar, Motown stint, the Bridge School and nearly everything else that wouldn’t fit comfortably in the chronological narrative. The text is also punctuated with dozens of quotes from usual suspects Crosby, Stills and Nash and Eddie Vedder to Ben Folds and Toby Keith.

Authors Durchholz and Graff are clearly in their element. The St. Louis-based Durchholz boasts music bylines from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Washington Post and Rolling Stone. Graff has written for Billboard, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and New York Times and is the editor of “The Ties that Bind: Bruce Springsteen: A to E to Z” and the MusicHound Essential Album guides.

Their story opens with a photo of a two-year-old Young nestled by a full-page shot of his first band, the Squires. It closes with essays on his Linc/Volt hybrid car and the first volume of the Neil Young Archives. In between we see Young grow his hair long, cut it short, grow a beard, and dabble with folk, classic rock, electronica, country and grunge. Never comfortable with one look or style of music, the only constant in the narrative arc is Young himself.

Four appendices chronicle Young’s discography, providing the recording details, cover art and track listing for all of his albums, compilations and box sets. Further resources include the catalog number and a- and b-sides for all of his singles, his guest appearances on others’ albums and the tribute albums released in Young’s honor.

“Long May You Run” stops short of being a Young reference guide, but that was never the goal. It is a wonderful coffee table companion that is puts a trove of information, visual and otherwise at the reader’s fingertips. While there’s nothing in “Long May You Run” that can’t be found on a comprehensive Web site, it is a lot more fun to flip through and soak up.

Keep reading:

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Review – “Record Store Days”

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By Joel Francis

There is probably a good bromance film to be made about the relationship between male songwriters. They dynamics of a songwriting partnership mirror that of a romantic union – giddy joy at meeting a compatible soul, the steady rhythm of fruitful collaboration, independence and wanting to branch out and then either acceptance and adaptation or estrangement.

Some partnerships – like Morrissey and Johnny Marr – burn hot and bright, flaming out quickly. Others, like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, settle into marriages of convenience. Jack White is quite promiscuous as a songwriter, flitting from the White Stripes to the Raconteurs, Loretta Lynn and Dead Weather. Some songwriting partnerships turn into real marriages, like Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan or Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.

Then there are the songwriters who have flown solo: Phil Ochs, Neil Young, But even the most ardent songwriting bachelors have had a subtle and unseen hands guiding their way and providing resistance to make the song better. Rivers Como had Matt Sharp, Jeff Tweedy had Jay Bennett, Stevie Wonder had Syreeta Wright. And Bruce Springsteen had Miami Steven Van Zandt.

Van Zandt made his presence in the E Street Band known immediately. He arranged the horn line in “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” and contributed to the signature guitar line on “Born To Run.” For the next eight years his guitar was the muscle behind Springsteen’s songs, constantly challenging the band and its leader to keep moving and top themselves.

When Van Zandt left the E Street band in 1984, he was replaced by Nils Lofgren. Lofgren had established an outstanding reputation on the basis of his solo work and his stints with Neil Young and Crazy Horse. As a musician he was a more-than-worthy replacement for Van Zandt, but was too easygoing to musically aggravate his new boss the way Van Zandt had.

In 1995 Van Zandt returned the E Street Band and Lofgren remained. The pair has now spent more time in the band together than they did apart. But during that time, Springsteen’s concerts have turned into carnivals rather than escapades. Musicians that used to labor over albums as a unit now record their parts separately. In short, the E Street Band is less a team than an all-star squad of longtime ringers.

Although Springsteen concerts remain incredible experiences and his albums are very good for the most part, Springsteen’s songwriting lacks the urgency, grit and desperation of his early work. Since Springsteen’s early ‘90s retreat from the E Street crew, he hasn’t had a foil, poking, prodding and disturbing him.

When Tom Morello joined the E Street Band onstage in April, 2008, the long absent counterpunch returned. Although his career was considerably shorter, the guitarist had been searching for his own artistic gadfly since the break-up of Rage Against the Machine and the disappointment of Audioslave.

Both performers were familiar with the material. Springsteen wrote “The Ghost of Tom Joad” as the title song for his 1995 solo album and Rage Against the Machine released a covered it two years later. There are several elements in the live collaboration missing on either incarnation. Morello emulates Woody Guthrie in his solo guise as the Nightwatchman, but here and Springsteen add an element of longing and loneliness Guthrie would have liked.

Five guitars are played, but only two of them matter. Springsteen rips off a blistering solo with more intensity than anything he’s recorded in years – he came closest in his appearances on Warren Zevon’s farewell album “The Wind” – and Morello soars with passionate extended solo that combines Public Enemy’s Terminator X and Eddie Van Halen to end the song.

Springsteen originally wrote “Tom Joad” for the E Street 1995 reunion project, but didn’t like the band’s arrangement and set the number aside. That it took an outsider to help the group get the song right 13 years later points the direction Springsteen’s music should head. Too comfortable with the E Streeters, he needs an album-length collaboration with obvious disciples like the Hold Steady or a partnership with more-obscure-but-still-simpatico Black Keys.

Springsteen doesn’t need anyone reverential or deferential. He needs someone like Morello kicking his ass, forcing him to be better. Hopefully these eight tantalizing minutes are the first draft of an upcoming screenplay.

Keep reading:

Review: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (2008)

Review: Rage Against the Machine at Rock the Bells (2007)

Review: Springsteen’s “Dream” Needs More Work

Springsteen in the Waiting Room: Drop the Needle and Pray

Springsteen Rocks the Hall (part 1)

Springsteen Rocks the Hall (part 2)

Book Review: “Big Man” by Clarence Clemons

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