Funhouse Album Reviews
Neil Young News
The cyberzine of degenerate pop culture
vol. 1 - no. 5; October 20, 1994
AMERICAN STARS 'N' BARS
COMES A TIME
1975 - Reprise MS 2242
Don't Cry No Tears / Danger Bird / Pardon My Heart / Lookin' for a Love /
Barstool Blues / Stupid Girl / Drive Back / Cortez the Killer / Through
by Jeff Dove
"If I could hold on to just one thought for long enough to know / Why my
mind is moving so fast and the conversation is slow"
- from "Barstool Blues"
Zuma is the first record with the current and long-standing version of Crazy
Horse (Billy Talbot - bass, Ralph Molina - drums, and Frank Sampedro -
guitar). The record's sound is laid out in a way that places it on a
continuum that includes Rust Never Sleeps, Live Rust, Re-ac-tor, Ragged Glory,
and Weld in the future (as well as a few selected cuts here and there on other
albums, most notably "Like a Hurricane" from American Stars 'n' Bars). With
Poncho joining Neil on guitar, the band developed a style that I believe
allowed him to create his best music over the years. Previous Crazy Horse
collaborations had power, but Zuma is the beginning of the balance of raw
playing and a clean sound, featuring a perfectly balanced interplay between the two guitars. Similar to Big Star in the early seventies or Television in
the late seventies, there is an amplified noise which doesn't let up on the
energy, but is not overwhelming or excessive. The previous Neil Young and
Crazy Horse collaboration, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, from the early
solo days, featured Danny Whitten's playing, but Whitten's death brought about
a six-year hiatus in the Horse's appearances as Young's backing band on a
complete record. Zuma signals their return, and this record introduces the
sound that gives Neil his "Godfather of Grunge" title. If Zuma has a lyrical
theme, it is one of romantic rejection, loneliness, hope, and despair. From
song to song, it seems to have been written by a man who has just been dumped,
and might even be still harboring a bit of hostility; but on the other hand,
he longs for a return to what he once had. The opening two high-energy songs
set this theme. From the musically upbeat "Don't Cry No Tears":
"Well I wonder who's with her tonight / And I wonder who's holding
her tight / But there's nothing I can say, to make him go away..."
"Danger Bird" isn't as abrupt in its words, but it is a heavy, searing tune
with an anguished tone to both the vocals and the guitar solos that continues
the emotion without putting it into words. Not every track is a full-on
electric work out, and side one takes a respite from this, in varying degrees,
with its third and fourth tracks. "Pardon My Heart" finds Neil with his
acoustic, and its plea is one of the most straightforward:
"Pardon my heart if I show that I care / But I love you more than moments,
we have or have not shared"
"Lookin' for a Love" presents a return to the electric guitar, but the
distortion is down and the country-rock beat is up. Again, the lyrical theme
of the album is pursued:
"I've been lookin' for a lover but I haven't met her yet..."
And then, the telling chorus:
"Lookin' for a love that's right for me / I don't know how long its gonna
be / But I hope I treat her kind, and don't mess with her mind, when she
starts to see the darker side of me"
It's a fatalistic response to the earlier, "Is it strange I should change I
don't know, why don't you ask her" line from the Buffalo Springfield song "Mr.
Soul." "Barstool Blues" kicks side one back into high gear. It is a raging
rocker, littered with wry observations and clever comments like the quote
which began this review, and is Zuma's best song. More relationship-based
angst can be found in the verse, such as:
"He trusted in a woman, and on her he made his bet"
"And I saw you in my nightmares, but I'll see you in my dreams / And I
might live a thousand years before I know what that means"
The second side begins much as the first did, with some loud Crazy Horse
intensity. However both "Stupid Girl" and "Drive Back" are centered less
around longing and are more bitter and angry. The title to "Stupid Girl" tips
off its message. When the Stones used this title on Aftermath for a different
song, it was to dismiss a woman for her superficiality and justified one of
Jagger's misogynist poses. Neil's song seems based on a more personal
disgust. On a musical level, listen as Neil harmonizes with himself on some
verses, singing in both his more usual voice and in the higher tone he
utilizes on occasion. "Drive Back" is one of the album's hardest rockers, and
accompanying its guitar attack are more words of angry dismissal:
"Drive back to your old town / I want to wake up with no one around"
The familiar "Cortez the Killer" continues the sound that has been prevalent
over the course of Zuma. Neil's and Poncho's guitars play off of each other
in an intricate and exciting manner. The music builds from subtle beauty
through an extended instrumental intro, to become more amplified and intense
as the song's story of the bloody aftermath of the arrival of imperialist
conquerors becomes more intense. The theme of "Cortez" is obviously quite
distinct from that which Zuma has been occupied with up to this point, but
stuck into a refrain and the end of the song can be found these seemingly
"And I know she's living there, and she loves me to this day / I still
can't remember when, or how I lost my way"
"Through My Sails" is a knock-off with Crosby, Stills, Nash and their acoustic
guitars. It's only average and, compared to the rest of the album, is a bit
of a let down. Neil was probably throwing a bone to the trio, who by this
time had already demonstrated their lack of any ability to create anything
worthwhile without Young along for the ride. If you're partial to the harder
edge of Neil Young's music, Zuma is an important stage in his development; if
your tastes run toward the sounds of loud electric guitars zealously playing
off of each other, then it is essential.
More reviews of Neil Young's Zuma album.
AMERICAN STARS 'N' BARS
1977 - Reprise MSK 2261
The Old Country Waltz / Saddle up the Palomino / Hey Babe / Hold Back
the Tears / Bite the Bullet / Star of Bethlehem / Will to Love / Like a
Hurricane / Homegrown
by Stephen J. Chant
All of Neil's fans should own American Stars 'n' Bars, if only for the seminal
November '75, 8:14 minute "Like a Hurricane." AS'n'B is one of Neil's
scattershot albums, in which he explores a variety of themes, including rock,
country, ballad, even the waltz. Side one is performed by Neil, Crazy Horse,
and the Bullets. The Bullets (a humorous, oblique reference to the clitoris)
are Linda Ronstadt, Nicolette Larson and Carole Mayedo. Opening with the
rural-paced "The Old Country Waltz" and "Saddle Up the Palomino," Neil then
delivers a one-two-three roundhouse of excellent, romantically inspired songs
with the warm "Hey Babe," the hot "Hold Back the Tears," and the blistering
"Bite the Bullet." Side Two is a total mishmash. Neil picks up a group that
includes Emmylou Harris, Ben Keith, Tim Drummond and Karl Himmel for "Star of
Bethlehem," then goes solo for "Will to Love," before joining up with the
Horse for two classics, a raging "Hurricane" and a laconic and lovable
"Homegrown." AS'n'B remains one of my favorite albums, even after fifteen
years. Neil demonstrates versatility and unpredictability in a very laid-back
atmosphere, much like a favorite bar or back porch. At the very least, this
is an album that should've warned David Geffen that in Neil Young, he wasn't
getting a commodity driven by commercial success.
COMES A TIME
1978 - Reprise MSK 2266
Goin' Back / Comes a Time / Look Out for My Love / Lotta Love / Peace of
Mind / Human Highway / Already One / Field of Opportunity / Motorcycle
Mama / Four Strong Winds
by Crazy Donkey (aka Rob Blackmore)
Comes A Time, produced by Neil Young, Ben Keith, Tim Mulligan and David
Briggs, is regarded by some as a comeback to folk music for Neil Young, more
in the style of Harvest and After the Goldrush. Originally, the album was
going to be called Ode to the Wind, and several copies were pressed with that
name. There are ten tracks on the album, five on each side. All of the
selections are written by Neil Young, except for the tenth track, "Four Strong
Winds," which is a cover version of an Ian Tyson song. A wide variety of
musicians play on the album, and Nicolette Larson sings the backing vocals.
Crazy Horse plays on "Look Out For My Love" and "Lotta Love," with J.J. Cale
on electric guitar. "Goin' Back" is one of my favorite tracks on the album.
It's a peaceful song, expressing a wish to return to the past, back to a more
simple time when "fire filled the sky" and where there was "nowhere to stay."
It also mentions a relationship splitting apart, which is possibly a central
theme to the album. The mixture of guitar sounds works very well, and Neil's
voice and the backing vocals of Nicolette Larson combine beautifully. The
imagery is quite geological to begin with, something Neil has touched on in
other songs, "Thrasher," from "Rust Never Sleeps," for example. The song
ends, however, in the city, where the shadows of the buildings "tore us apart,
and now we do what we do." Comes A Time opens with some great fiddling, which
blends well with the guitar. Neil's voice is quite lonesome, and the backing
vocals are perfect, just being audible on the edges. The imagery is again
very earthy, and the song seems to describe how time keeps passing by. The
idea of the earth spinning round, and "It's a wonder tall trees ain't layin'
down," is typical of Neil's ability to paint a picture with a few words.
"Look Out For My Love" is probably my favorite track on the album. Recently,
it was performed brilliantly for the Unplugged show, and it was hardly altered
because the set-up is so perfect! The crisp combination of guitars superbly
complements Neil's voice, which is pitched spot-on. The electric guitar,
which comes in at "hydraulic wipers pumping," just makes it for me - it's
heavenly! The whole description of the airport and traffic is classic; what
more can I say! "Lotta Love" is the next track on my tape, slightly out of
place with the sleeve order. There's some nice piano and high pitched
percussion work. It appears to be saying that it takes a lotta love to keep
people together. There's a wish for the right person / lover to "show up soon." "Peace Of Mind" has an interesting beat, sort of like a ticking clock.
It describes how it takes a long time to get to know someone and to let them
get to know you. "It's hard to face that open space" is a sort of warning
that if you leave, you won't have "peace of mind," and that's probably the
best thing to go for. The electric guitar at the end adds to the drum beat.
The second side of the album opens with "Human Highway." This is more in the
style of the first two tracks of side one, with plenty of earthy imagery. It
also speaks, however, about people being unkind, and maybe talking about you
and your life behind your back. The backing vocals once again add to this
song. "Already One" always makes me feel a little sad. It's about splitting
up with someone, but being forever attached to them through a child, in this
case a little son. It's got a slow, lonely beat, and the guitar at the end is
great. Once again Neil uses words and phrases that have so much feeling, as
"In my new life, I'm traveling light / Eyes wide open for the next move"
"Field Of Opportunity" livens things up. There's a nice blend of fiddle, and
acoustic and electric guitar; the strumming keeps the beat. The song talks
about moving on, new growth, and new love; everyone makes mistakes but you
just have to keep trying. "Motorcycle Mama" was apparently written by Neil
after watching a woman fall off her barstool in Florida, but I don't know how
reliable that is. This is certainly the most electric song on the album, and
it keeps the country feel with a mean piece of fiddling. Nicolette Larson's
vocals are very much the dominant force of this song. It sort of follows the
"moving on" theme, with:
"I just escaped from the memory-county jail."
The album finishes with a cover version of the Ian Tyson song "Four Strong
Winds." It's a fairly lively version, and the lyrics fit with the other
songs. Neil's voice is perfect, and again the set-up works well. I really
like this album. I find the mixture of acoustic and electric guitar with the
fiddle to be really pleasant to listen to. The songs are sometimes fairly
lonesome, but usually there is a balance. As usual, the subject matter would
appear to reflect Neil's personal life, but as with so many of his songs, the
problems are of a human nature that everyone can relate to.
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