Neil Young News
Well...I've had "Harvest Moon" for a couple of months now, and I still have very mixed feelings about it. On one hand...ANY new Neil Young album is an exciting experience. However, I expected much more from an album that has been in the pipeline for so long.
The final product is the kind of slick, overly produced record that will probably sell pretty well, but I don't buy into the "Harvest" sequel hype at all. In reality, "Harvest Moon," is much closer to "Old Ways" (or perhaps "Comes a Time") than it is to its alleged predecessor.
If Neil was going to make an acoustic album...then that is what he should have done and left the Gators in virtual retirement (as a group that is). In my opinion, Neil could have turned out a better album by releasing a live LP taken from the recent concert tour. There is nothing on "Harvest Moon" that approaches the intensity or EMOTION that comes across on the tapes taken from the solo acoustic shows.
"Unknown Legend" starts things off and is VERY country...heavy pedal steel. Also heavy are the prominently mixed female backing vocals. Neil's voice seems a little rougher than it had been on the tour. Maybe this is the justification for the "upfront" backing mix...to kind of bury Neil's weakened vocals.
"From Hank to Hendrix" is one of my favorite tunes and the ONE song I thought would be the hit from "Moon." It still might be...but this version lacks the feeling that Neil was able to give live and solo. The soaring chorus of "can we get it together, can we still stand side by side...," is watered down by too many backing vocals and the omnipresent pedal steel. Neil's vocal again sound "off:" high and rather ragged. The song simply lacks emotion.
"You and Me" is next and pretty much retains its original feel...just Neil and his guitar with only slight backing vocals. As with the whole mix in general, the voices have an echo to them...like they were recorded in a large, boomy room.
"Harvest Moon" comes across as very similar to the Farm Aid V version and features Neil exhibiting much stronger singing.
"War of Man" is the one tune I might consider as being improved upon from its live performance. The hypnotic drum and bass lines lurk just below the surface, underscoring the "environmental" message in the song. However, I could really do without the jarring background vocals that tend to overwhelm the chorus.
The first highlight of the album (for me) comes not from a new song, but from an older tune: "One of These Days." Given a very pretty treatment here, Neil's singing is killer. The song manages to retain the delicate sincerity that has always marked it as one of Neil's best.
"Such a Woman" displays some fine singing and string arrangement, but the overall effect of these additions tends to diffuse the song's power and emotion for me. It is still a gorgeous song though.
"Old King" is given a perfunctory and overly slick playing and could have easily been left off the album. A great concert tune, especially when prefaced with a "dog story," I feel it just does not stand up as well on the album.
Another highlight follows. "Dreaming Man" is a killer. Great singing by Neil and even the backing vocals are very tasty on this cut. In my opinion, this is arguable the best track on the entire album.
The last song on the album, "Natural Beauty," offers a glimpse at what the album could have been...sort of. Recorded live, the song has the nice "concert" feel to it. It has that airy ambiance about it. However, a'la "Mother Earth," Neil took the live recording and layered in studio stuff...some backing vocals, some bass and a hint of percussion. It works, but I feel he could have left well enough alone and simply included the unaltered live track.
While I feel the album is "good"...it just does not move me. In my opinion, there is not a single cut on "Harvest Moon" that does not sound better in its "original state: solo acoustic. Neil has always said he prefers simplicity. Always the advocate of live recording whether it be in the studio or the concert hall, Neil has always been able to capture the essence of his music at its most spontaneous. There is nothing on "Harvest Moon" that strikes me as spontaneous...or even close. It is the kind of slick, overly produced product that record companies dream about. Reprise must certainly be happy with it. With its heavy country sound, "Harvest Moon" arrives just in time to (hopefully) capture a share of the market in the current country/western music fad/phase we seem to be in the midst of.
It has always been hard, if not impossible, to accuse Neil of being commercial...but after listening to "Harvest Moon" for weeks now, you have to wonder. Mind you, I do not mean to imply that Neil consciously did this, but he seems to have come out of the ditch and back into the middle of the road. Neil is obviously happy with "Harvest Moon" or we would have never seen it. However, does this mean that he is now in a place where the more produced side of music appeals to him ? If so, that is fine. As long as he continues to grow and to create new music then I am all for it. I would add that I do hope that, like the Shocking Pinks, this new direction does not last too long. I much prefer the ragged and totally honest side of Neil.
He showed us total honesty and vulnerablity while out on tour last year...it's a shame that this longİawaited album does not begin to capture that passion and emotion many of us have heard and seen.
I bought "Harvest Moon" and I guess I'll play it every now and then, but when I really want to hear the music that Neil was into and capable of producing in 1992...I will reach for the tapes: Seattle in January, New York in February, Boston and Philadelphia in March...these are the places that the true heart and soul of "Harvest Moon" can be found.
I was sitting here listening to the album, trying to put my finger on it...the essence. Trying to come up with an analogy that best describes my ambivalence toward the album. The only thing that comes close in my mind is the colorization of old movies. Many old black and white films, ones universally deemed classics, are given a computerized gloss of color and then trotted out to the masses. The thought apparently being that more is better, that change is better. Does the addition of color to "Casablanca" or "It's a Wonderful Life," for example, make them better films ? Of course not. That's the way I feel about "Harvest Moon"...Neil took many excellent songs, simple black and white ones, and colorized them...unnecessarily.
More on Harvest Moon's precursor, the Harvest album by Neil Young.
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