Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Album Review: Neil Young - Hitchhiker

Neil Young
**** out of *****

Sometimes just tackling an album with no understanding of the backstory and history is exhilarating as you head off into the unknown. Conversely there are disks that need footnotes or at least context to really explain them. Hitchhiker, the most recent release from Neil Young, falls directly into this second category.

All but two of these tracks have been previously released by Young himself, but in very different forms. This album was recorded on August 11th, 1976 in Malibu and has the impressive feel as being off the cuff, with Uncle Neil channeling the spirit of song effortlessly. Just Neil, harmonica guitar and piano as he expertly winds through songs that would go on to become some of the most popular (and best) of his career.

Working with producer David Briggs on nights with a full moon, Young dives in, starting off with the amazing combo of “Pocahontas” and “Powderfinger”. Both would be released on the classic Rust Never Sleeps album and sound delightful in Young’s direct and easy folk style. He had this to say regarding this whole collection of songs: 
"It was a complete piece, although I was pretty stony on it, and you can hear it in my performances... I laid down all the songs in a row, pausing only for weed, beer, or coke. Briggs was in the control room, mixing live on his favorite console."
That “stoney” sound is pretty forefront on of the previously unreleased tracks “Hawaii” which meanders and goes for the high register of Young’s voice, not a standout by any stretch. His other unreleased track is much better and better known to fans of Young’s as he has played it live and it has leaked out on bootlegs before. Titled “Give Me Strength” it is a gorgeous harmonica/acoustic combo of yearning that uses Young’s stripped down singing to great effect.

The title track is a rambling tale of drug use that has also been heavily bootlegged and reinterpreted by Young himself on 2010’s Le Noise while “Campaigner” puts back in the original verse which had been edited from Decade. Ending with “The Old Country Waltz”, this time without Crazy Horse, Young caps a night of incredible tunes and solid performances with a piano ballad.

The album is quite an achievement of one night of music, an excellent documentation of Young at the height of his writing prowess. While longtime fans may gravitate towards other released versions, these songs support Hitchhiker expertly; a solid album that anyone can hear for the first time and appreciate.
Support the artist, buy the album, peep some video below:

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