The world is turning I hope it don’t turn away
Its inevitable and also positive for artists and their fans to find the fork in the road and go their separate ways from time to time. Bands need the space to reinvent themselves and to stop playing everyone’s favourite songs. Fans simply move on; there’s a lot of music out there.
Shakey, otherwise known as Neil Young, is that fork in the road.
One month after his 71st birthday in December 2016 he released ‘Peace Trail’ his fourth album of that year and his 37th record. By the time of its release I had disappeared as a fan. No specific moment in time had caused the break-up. My Neil-mania had slowly loosened over the years and like Shakey himself, I had drifted. Until I hit the peace trail.
An album recorded in four days and whose songs breathe deep inside you. Music from beneath the underdog and a welcome return to the drums by the loose but tight soundscape syncopator, Jim Keltner. The man who takes away the rock and leaves you the roll.
‘Peace Trail’ transports me back to the days when I relentlessly played Neil Young’s bleakest albums, recorded by David Briggs. Here is a record which offers a similar depth of emotional resonance, achieved in part by an honest production that makes the songs sound as if they are in the same room as you.
Music right up close - the best kind of music
Stripped bare of the mixing process as mask, this album heaves with bittersweet intensity. The opening track might be the best song Shakey has recorded since the epic ‘Psychedelic Pill’ album and before that ‘Change Your Mind’ from the ‘Sleeps with Angels’ tribute to Kurt Cobain.
I cannot recommend the album enough. It reminds me of Levon Helm’s ‘Dirt Farmer' in so much as the band are set free by the raw power of spontaneity, a gift which sets some artists apart from the machine. (Talking of machines, there are rumours Crosby Stills And Nash don't like Young anymore - phew. Suffice to say that if there must be war on this planet and there really doesn’t have to be; can the Marrakesh Express please be taken out?)
David Briggs was a one-man war. Like most human beings engulfed in a visionary state enabled by drug addiction and raw talent, David Briggs was a complicated chap. “Be great or be gone”, his mantra, saw some artists rise to the challenge and others, Nick Cave for example, grab the master tapes and get out of dodge sharpish. ‘Peace Trail’ sounds like the spirit of Briggs is embedded deep within the grooves of the lacquer.
I’m still waiting for the release of the original recording of ‘Tonight’s The Night’ which along with ‘On The Beach’ ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’ ‘Zuma’ and ‘After The Gold Rush’, are the go-to records by Neil Young, mostly involving Crazy Horse.
Records which leave the wounds open for all to see
Crazy Horse’s Danny Whitten could sing as if downtown was a district deep inside his throat. I’m still left dizzy- inner – every time I hear ‘Look At All The Things’ and despite Rod’s not a Mod covering ‘I Don’t Want To Talk About It’, Danny’s hymn to heartbreak should rightly be considered a song that equals ‘All Or Nothing’ as blue eyed soul at its very best.
On the 11th of July 1993 I stood in Hyde Park as Neil Young and his band. ahem…. Booker T And The MG’s - strolled onto the stage, plugged in and pressed the button that takes a band straight beyond the stratosphere to the very highest levels of something else. Teenage Fanclub also played a blinder that day whilst the Four Non Blondes kindly provided some light-hearted comedic entertainment.
Shakey was amazing up on that huge stage. Here is a fella who has released an album once every 1.9 years of his entire life. You gotta have some powerful motivation deep within you to keep getting to the fork in the road just to keep on going. Who cares whether you or I like this album or that, Neil chucked the map out the window decades ago.
And let’s not forget Buffalo Springfield whose contribution to music in the 60’s is all too often overlooked by a preference for Crosby Stills & Nash (and eventually Young). The only band that not only sounded like a law firm but also acted like one. I hope they never reform. Yes, a few of the songs are good, but the vibe, the whole concept, makes me want to put on The Stooges very loudly and start breaking things. Insincerity is bullshit no matter what angle your smelling the incense from.
Americans are slowly waking up from the dream-mare to realise bankers and transnational corporations govern their lives. Over here in Albion we are still asleep. Cognitive dissonance offers a safety net to those leaping from the tops of the metaphorical sky-scraper. ‘Peace Trail’ might be Neil telling everyone the game is up. Then again, ‘Terrorist Suicide Hang Gliders’ might be meant to be taken literally, in which case Shakey is having another support President Regan moment and I’m back at the fork in the road.
Regardless of ism and schism, it’s one hell of a song
Whatever means by which a person creates new ways of seeing, feeling and being - using paint, pictures, words, recycled bankers or just the power of the mind, all anyone else can do is respect the process. If you tune into creativity and it resonates with you, give thanks and praise.
Neil Young is a seeker. Sometimes I stick my thumb out as he passes by and it’s usually well worth the ride.
37 albums and counting.
Catch you next Friday when we take a side smile look at King Monkeys solo albums and his life beyond the Rose before the third coming.