Neil Young - As Good As Bob Dylan?

by John Rockwell - New York Times, June 19, 1977

Neil Young News

---------- Forwarded message ----------

Date: Wed, 16 Aug 1995 13:33:54 -0400 (EDT)
From: Wolfpack 'Homer' Holmes <
To: Rust Mailing List <
Cc: Jason Auguste Schwartz <
Subject: Neil Young - As Good as Dylan? (long)

[I apologize in advance for any spelling/gramatical mistakes ... I'm not using my usual word processor. Yeah, I know, excuses, excuses... homer]

"Young is about as talented and touching a poet as American popular music
has produced"

In 1968, David Crosby of the Byrds and Stephen Stills of Buffalo
Springfield decided to get together. Shortly afterward, they met Graham
Nash of the Hollies at the home of Joni Mitchell. The result was a
wildly successful album in 1969 called 'Crosby, Still and Nash.' Shortly
after that Neil Young, another former member of Buffalo Springfield,
hooked up with the other 3.

Altogether the intertwinings of these four men have now produced a total
of 25 albums (31 actual LP's), counting "greatest hits" collections and
the new Crosby, Stills and Nash disk, 'CSN', and the new Young disk,
'American Stars'n Bars', both released this week. The running total goes
like this: one solo album for Crosby, two for Nash, eight for Stills, and
nine for Young, one Stills-Young record, three Crosby-Nash records, two
Crosby, Stills and Nash records, and three Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
albums. (Crosby, Stills and Nash were at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island
Friday and will be at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday; Young will be
touring later this summer.)

The reason for the large number of disks is that these are all talented
men and their various couplings produce music that is both interesting
and popular. The reason for the variety of couplings is that they clash
frequently, both artistically and personally. As the above deals
suggest, the most enduring partnership is that of Crosby and Nash, who
both favor a sweet, folkish kind of music characterized by close, high
harmonies. Stills, with his muscular energy and debts to the blues, fits
in with them fairly well, toughening their art even as they refine his.
Young is the real loner of the foursome, technically rawer and
temperamentally isolated. He is also far and away the finest artist of
the lot.

'CSN' is the first Crosby, Stills and Nash record since 1969, when the
trio inaugurated the string of 29 albums. It is not as good as the
first, and the reason is a lack of energy. What made the debut disk
interesting was the juxtaposition of harmonies normally associated with a
milder, blander music against an eccentric, rhythmically asymmetrical
intensity. The new disk is so mellow it makes you want to howl, even
when the words are dealing with ostensibly serious subjects. The record
is hardly a waste, to be sure, and perhaps it will be mightily popular
(though one doubts it). Nash is particularly arresting, especially in
songs called "Cold Rain" and the haunting "Cathedral", and Croby's
"Anything at All" has a nice slippage into speech-song. But ultimately
one senses defeatism here. The first disk had an aura of excitement and
exploration. This sounds like a tired last recourse - an attempt at
commercial success by three men whose egos make it hard for them to
collaborate, but whose relative lack of popular success by themselves
makes it difficult not to do so.

Young's case is different, even if he did participate in the 1974 Crosby,
Stills, Nash and Young tour and even if his last recorded outing was his
problematic collaboration with Stills. Young's position as a solo artist
is firmly established. He may not be the hottest seller in popular
music, nor has he yet won quite the degree of recognition that he
deserves. But he is still about as individual, talented and touching a
musical poet as American popular music has produced, worthy of comparison
with Bob Dylan.

Young surpasses not only Crosby, Stills and Nash, but indeed the vast
majority of contemporary singer-songwriters on several grounds. His basic
stance is clear, even if it is obscured by evocative ambiguities. Neil
Young is the quintessential hippy-cowboy loner, a hopeless romantic
struggling to build bridges out of himself to women and through them to
cosmic archetypes of the past and of myth. He is a mystic of a very
particular type, however, and that has limited his commercial appeal, and,
perhaps, his artistic range. Not everyone can feel comfortable with a
stoned, California hippy lowlifer, and that is how Young (even though he
comes originally from Canada) chooses to portray himself - see his rather
off-putting album cover on the new 'American Stars'n Bars' for an
ostensibly humorous variant on his self-image.

Yet that same hermetic
self-indulgence protects him from a slicker self-consciousness that often
undercuts the work of CS&N and the others. Young's metaphors reach
innocently an d incessantly to the heavens - in 'American Stars'n Bars' he
sees a lover "dancing on the light from star to star, far across the
moonbeam" - and partly as a result his poetic imagery attains a depth and
simplicity that match some of the greatest American poetry.

Musically, too, Young stands aside from the Los Angeles folk-rock school
that Crosby, Stills and Nash epitomize. Not for him the smooth harmonies
and precise, well-tuned, tasteful instrumentation of his peers. The
instrumental sound favored by his band, Crazy Horse, is solid and
monolithic, with leaden drumming and blocky guitar chords lent an
unmistakable flavor by their slightly sour tuning. Young's voice, a
quavery, poignant enor, is far from technically ideal, yet its rawness is
itself a metaphor for vulnerability. In sum, Young is an artist who has
found a perfect outlet for his limitations and his vision in his highly
personalized rock-and-roll - which is itself an art form made for the
propagation of passionate, technically simple art.

'American Stars'n Bars' is a good introduction to Young in that unlike
his recent solo albums, it blends several different kinds of music. 'On
the Beach,' 'Tonight's the Night,' and 'Zuma' found him lost in a
brooding, private world. All three were great records - and I use the
word great very deliberately. But they were intentionally personal ones,
too, and as such almost defiant in their refusal to reach out to a wide

'American Stars'n Bars' is unlikely to sell in the
multi-millions. But its first side especially finds Young working in a
lighter, brighter idiom than in the past. Recorded in April of this year
and featuring highly audible, pervasive vocals by Linda Ronstadt and
Nicolette Larson (an excellent Los Angeles session singer), this is a
collection of country-and-Westernish tunes that emerge almost as trios
rather than as solos with back-up vocal accompaniment. Compare to the
great, tortured Neil Young epics, these may seem superficial at first.
But soon enough one realizes that there is a seriousness here, and
Young's unique style lends them an inescapable resonance.

Except for the jolly final number, the second side plunges right back
into Young at his most intense. The first song, recorded in November of
1974 - Young reportedly has whole albums' worth of unreleased stuff - is
called "Star of Bethlehem," and features Emmylou Harris in another of her
marvelously haunting backup roles. In a song called "Cortez the Killer"
on the 'Zuma' album, Young painted a whole historical fresco and then
magically transformed it into a metaphor for personal love. In "Star of
Bethlehem" he sets an intimate scene and then projects it outward into
Christian imagery. Either way, both songs capture Young at his finest.
Next comes a quite remarkable confession called "Will to Love," recorded
and overdubbed in May of 1976 on a two-track Sony cassette recorder in
from of an audibly crackling fireplace. This is as exact a statement as
one could find of his despair, loneliness and eternal romanticism. "Like
a Hurricane" from November of 1975 offers Young the tortured electric
guitarist at his most impassioned. "Homegrown" finishes off the album
with a return to a lighter mood.

One imagines many people will buy and enjoy the new 'CSN' disk and the
trio's live shows. Perhaps some or all of the threesome will collaborate
with Young in the future, and worthy music may result. But of the four,
Neil Young is the artist. One hopes that a long-delayed three-disk album
of this great songs of the past decade, due out his fall, will inspire
the critical reassessment that will establish him rightfully in the
pantheon of post-war American popular art.

David Crosby, Graham Nash and Stephen Stills: CSN, Atlantic, SD 19104
Neil Young: American Stars'n Bars, Warner/Reprise, MSK 2261

For more, see Bob Dylan and Neil Young page.

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