Thursday, December 28, 2023

Album Review: Neil Young - Before and After

Neil Young
Before and After
**and1/2 out of *****

After a few years of new music, 2023 was a retrospective year for Neil Young who released three albums and toured, yet, there were no new songs. One album was a live release with Crazy Horse from the mid-70's and two albums were reimagining's or sorts. The first, Chrome Dreams, just made official what longtime fans have already bootlegged/owned for years with no changes, while Before and After is an acoustic reworking of some songs from Young's immense back catalog

Played and recorded as an extension of his July solo tour, the album finds Neil playing straight through a few lesser loved numbers with just harmonica, guitar, piano, and pump organ as he ambulates with relaxed energy, singing in that same style. At 78 his voice is a bit distant and a touch shaky, but it was that same way when he was 28. 

The recording is personal and fresh, sounding live as he digs into some Buffalo Springfield songs like "Burned" and "On The Way Home" which work well in this fashion as bright acoustic strums mix with vibrating harmonica. "Homefires" is a quick workout while "Birds" loses a touch of it's majesty in this stripped down piano version. The pump organ gets a work out on the deep "If You Got Love" (which sounds like a sturdier Daniel Johnston tune) before "Mother Earth" groans and wobbles while "A Dream That Can Last" sounds bright with nimble piano work. 

Bob Rice adds vibraphone to both "My Heart" and "When I Hold You In My Arms" mixing up the sound a touch. "Comes A Time" is simple straight ahead folk like the original, while one of the oldest songs here, "Mr. Soul" starts ominously and never gets the garage rocking heights it has hit in the past, and it almost seems like it was recorded live, as those faint cheers in there, or just a creaking pump organ?  

The truth is, fans of Uncle Neil will tell you the originals of these songs are all better, so hopefully these scaled down versions will lead new listeners to those. Opener "I'm The Ocean" is the great underrated rocker in Neil's catalog that needs to be heard more than anything. Jack Irons drums the hell out of the original song and the rest of Pearl Jam give a whole different inspiration to Young than Crazy Horse that is vitally exciting as Young runs with it in this song directly into the unknown; check out the original. 

With the release of Before and After there are parallels that can be drawn to Bob Dylan's Shadow Kingdom, but with Dylan the changes/musicality were the draws, here things are scaled back intentionally. There is nothing inherently wrong with this album, yet nothing that needs to be heard either, it is just a pleasant acoustic stroll through some deeper cuts from one of the best to do it. 
Support the artist, buy the album, peep some video below:

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