NEIL YOUNG-HARVEST MOON.

NEIL YOUNG-HARVEST MOON.

For over twenty years, I’ve been a fan of Neil Young. My love of Neil Young’s music came from a friend of mine, who I used to work with. Jim was a huge fan of Neil Young’s music, he was almost evangelical, about Neil’s music. To Jim, Neil’s music was peerless. Eventually, I was converted, and I too became a huge fan of Neil Young’s music. For six decades, Neil Young has produced some incredible music. Firstly with Buffalo Springfield, then with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and finally, as a solo artist. During the past five decades as a solo artist, Neil Young has produced many memorable albums. Back in 1972, he recorded one of his finest and most successful albums, Harvest. Twenty years later, in 1992 he released Harvest Moon, which was a “sequel” to Harvest. Harvest Moon is one of my favorite Neil Young albums and before telling you about Harvest Moon, I’ll briefly tell you about Neil’s career.

Neil Percival Young was born in November 1945, in Toronto, Canada. He was the son of a successful sportswriter Scott Young. His mother Edna, was of French, Irish and American descent. During his childhood, the family moved several times. From an early age, he was interested in music. Among his musical influences were Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Johnny Cash. Strangely, the first instrument he learnt to play wasn’t a guitar, it was a plastic ukelele, which led to a ukelele, then a banjo ukelele and then a baritone ukelele. Guitar came later for Young. 

By high school, his parents marriage had broken up, and Neil and his mother had relocated to Fort Rouge, Winnipeg. By then, he was playing in bands. Later, he’d drop out of high school to become a musician, and recorded demos with producer Ray Dee. It was then that Neil met Stephen Stills. At this time, Neil was writing folk songs, and one of his songs Flying On the Ground Is Wrong, was his first hit as a songwriter. 1965 saw Neil tour Canada as a solo artist.

Neil Young’s first success came as a member of folk rock band Buffalo Springfield. Between 1966 and 1968, they’d released three albums, Buffalo Springfield in 1966, Buffalo Springfield Again in 1967 and their final album Last Time Around in 1968. 

After Buffalo Springfield disbanded, Neil decided to become a solo artists. Commercially, his debut album Neil Young released in 1968, wasn’t successful. This proved to be a mere blip. His second album, released in 1969, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, was the first he recorded with Crazy Horse, his legendary backing band. It reached number thirty-four in the Billboard 200.

The 1970s’ saw Neil Young produce a number of great albums. That was one of the most successful and prolific periods of his career. From After the Gold Rush in 1970, Harvest in 1972, On the Beach and Tonight’s the Night in 1974 and Zuma in 1975, the first half of the new decade saw Neil release five great albums. Two further albums were released in the seventies, the hugely underrated American Stars ‘N’ Bars released in 1978 and Comes A Time in 1978. For me, the albums Neil released during the seventies were among the best of his career. 

Having been a member of Buffalo Springfield between 1966 and 1968, in 1972, Neil Young joined with Crosby, Stills and Nash. They became Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. He played on their 1972 album Deja Vu, and, after leaving the band, rejoined for their reunion album American Dream in 1988.

The eighties weren’t the best of Neil’s career. During that decade, he started to experiment musically. Some of the albums he produced during this period stretched even the patience of fans. Albums like Trans and Landing On Water were experimental albums, Everybody’s Rockin’ featured rockabilly songs and Old Ways featured country music. However, during this decade he released several good albums including Hawks and Doves in 1980, This Notes For You in 1988 and Freedom in 1989. Freedom was the start of the start of a several grungier sounding albums by Young. 

The nineties started well with Ragged Glory, an album with a harder rockier style that featured on several of his previous albums including Everybody Knows This is Nowhere and Zuma. Harvest, the album this article is about was released in November 1992. It was, in some ways, a follow up to 1972’s Harvest. On it’s release, the album was critically acclaimed and massive commercial success. For the remainder of the nineties, Young continued to regularly release some great albums. Among the best were the grungy Sleeps With Angels and Mirror Ball, released in 1994 and 1995 respectively. He only released one further album in the nineties, Broken Arrow in 1996.

Between 2000 and 2011 Neil Young has continued to release albums regularly. By now one of rock’s elder statesmen, he continues to try to reinvent himself by releasing albums with a variety of different styles of music. Among his best albums during this period are Silver and Gold in 2000, which is a quieter, laid back album, featuring country and roots music. 2002’s Are You Passionate, which features both Crazy Horse and Booker T and The MGs is another great album, which is mostly, a lovely soulful album. There are a couple harder, rockier, tracks on the album. Overall, it’s one of Neil’s finest albums on the new millennia.

Between his first album with Buffalo Springfield, and his last solo album Le Noise released in 2010, Neil Young has released an incredible amount of albums. His music has crossed musical genres, and influenced several generations of music. During these six decades, his music has been loved by millions of fans worldwide, and every fan will have their favorite album. One of my favorite Neil Young albums, is 1992’s Harvest Moon. I’ll now tell you what makes Harvest Moon such a good album.

Harvest Moon opens with Unknown Legend. A steel guitar plays the lengthy intro at the start of Unknown Legend. Then Neil sings about a magical woman who worked in a diner, somewhere in smalltown America. It’s a heartwarming tale about what she was, and what she became. How she went from a rural femme fatale to family life. Neil’s lyrics are among the best on Harvest Moon, they’ve strong narrative and read like a good short story. You can almost close your eyes and imagine the characters and scenes he sings about. The song’s arrangement is perfect too. From the opening bars, when the guitar plays and then Neil sings. His voice is quiet and tender, an acoustic guitar accompanies him. Behind him, steel guitars and violin play. Quietly, a piano plays. Later, a harmonica solo plays, and is one of the song’s highlights. There’s a subtly about the arrangement, the band ensure nothing overpowers Neil’s tender voice. Unknown Legend is a beautiful song. Not only, one of the albums best songs, but one of the best songs he wrote in the nineties.

As Hank To Hendrix begins, a guitar plays as a harmonica blows. The tempo is slow, the style laidback, a rootsy, country influence shining through. It’s almost got made in Nashville stamped all over it. This track is like some of Neil’s much earlier stuff, and is a wonderful reminder of his roots. Hank To Hendrix i nostalgic, has a melancholy feel. It looks back to the past, and at the same time, sees a tinge of sadness creep in. When Neil sings, he’s accompanied by acoustic guitar. A steel guitar and harmonica play behind him quietly. Backing singers accompany him, their voices uniting perfectly with his. Like Unknown Legend, there is an understated feel about the arrangement. It’s a track with its roots in the past, and the sound very different from 1989’s Freedom. Quite simply, this is another beautiful song, and is another example of Neil’s talents as singer and songwriter.

You and Me is very different to the previous two tracks. An acoustic guitar opens the track. The arrangement is quite basic, it isn’t is catchy or melodic, and lacks the hooks of the previous songs. Mainly, it’s just Neil accompanied by his trusty acoustic guitar. His voice is slightly higher that before, his playing spacious. Here the tempo is way low. Sometimes, he’s accompanied by Nicolette Larson on backing vocals. Even though it’s mainly Neil and his guitar, it’s highly effective. Quickly, his voice enthralls you. It has a compelling fragility about it. 

From the first time I heard the Harvest Moon, I’ve always loved the song. It’s one of those songs that everything about it combines beautifully, to produce a stunning track. At the start of Harvest Moon, it’s just Neil and his acoustic guitar. Gradually, the arrangement builds, guitars and drums sounding like they’re played gently with brushes, enter. When backing vocalist enter, they’re voices are the perfect accompaniment to Neil’s gentle vocal. What you hear is a masterclass in subtly. Everyone plays within themselves. Here, less is more. Even the harmonica is played tenderly. By the end of the track, you’re smitten. You’ve fallen in love with a gentle, heartfelt song, played carefully and subtly.

As War of Man begins, it sounds like another laidback song from Neil. Quickly, you realize the error of your ways. War of Man soon quickens up, you start to think that the sound will build. By now it’s still Neil and his acoustic guitar. Things start to change when the backing singers enter. They increase the volume, fill out the sound. Still, you think that something is about happen, that the track will open up. It’s the drums that make you think that. In the end, you’re wrong. Granted the sound is fuller, slightly louder, but never rumbustious. Guitars, backing vocals and drums, drift into and out of the track. Never once do they let loose. Anticipation and expectation prove wrong In the end, you’re glad they don’t. Instead, Neil and company have provided you with nearly six minutes of passionate music, music that bubbles under, but never bubbles over.

In One of These Days, Neil sounds reflective and thankful. Just a tinge of melancholia creeps in. During the song, he gives thanks to all the good friends he’s known, and promises, as a thank you, to one day, write them a song. If this is that song, he must have some really good friends. Again, it’s a subdued song, one that’s roots are way down in Nashville. Peddle steel guitar, creeps in to the mix, behind Neil’s vocal and acoustic guitar. Sometimes, he’s joined by backing vocalists. Their contribution has an understated quality. They accompany, but never overpower his serene vocal, on what is a beautiful track.

It’s a darker, slightly sadder sound that greets you at the start of Such A Woman, when the piano and strings plays. Even when Neil sings, there is a sadness apparent in his voice. Considering the lyrics this strikes me as strange, because this is a song about love. One where he sings about a special woman. In the song, he sings about pain, and how no-one else can kill him like she does. Such A Woman features a beautiful, lush arrangement. Strings and a piano play. They’re beauty is quite a contrast to the fragility of Neil’s voice. This contrast, plus the lyrics, are what makes this such a beautiful song.

The country feel and sound is really apparent when you hear the opening bars of Old King. It begins with a banjo playing and Neil singing. Fiddles and backing vocalists accompany him. This gives it an authentic country feel, albeit one from way in country music’s past. It seems a song totally out of place with the rest of the album. Personally, I tolerate rather than enjoy the song. Yes, it’s an authentic slice of Americana, but even a good arrangement, can’t compel me to like rather than tolerate.

Thankfully, after Old King Neil returns to form. What follows is one of the best songs on the album. As the song begins, Neil plays his acoustic guitar, taking the tempo way down. When he sings, his voice is gentle, he takes care to phrase the lyrics perfectly. Behind him, his band have reserved one of their best performances. It has a lovely understated sound and feel. Instruments and backing vocalists enter the mix. Guitars slide in and out, drums play in the background. A Spanish sounding guitar is plucked carefully. Later, Neil and his backing vocalists combine beautifully, their sweet vocals a perfect foil for his gentle, near fragile vocal. Like many of the songs on Harvest Moon, two things are present here. Great lyrics are one. Listen carefully as Neil sings, and you’ll hear lyrics we can all relate to. Who isn’t a dreaming man or woman, dreaming about things in our past, people we’ve loved and lost? Neil’s lyrics may be melancholy, but they’re true to life. The second thing that’s present, is a great arrangement. Everything is subtle, the vocals the way every musician plays. It’s highly effective. The combination of great lyrics and a a great arrangement, is a potent mix, and results in a heart achingly beautiful song.

Natural Beaty was recorded live. It begins with a harmonica blowing, Neil plays acoustic guitar and after a long instrumental introduction, he sings. It’s just Neil, harmonica and guitar. He sings the song well, and later is joined by his backing vocalists. Sometimes, when he sings higher, he seems slightly out of key, and this jars. We can forgive him this, as this is a live recording. You only get one shot at it. Overall, he sings and plays well. The track lasts just over ten minutes, and during that time, you get to hear just how good he sounds live. Not only does he sound good, but Natural Beauty is a good track, and a fitting end to what has been one of Neil Young’s best albums.

It’s over twenty years since I bought my first Neil Young album. Since then, I’ve been a huge fan of his music, and was fortunate to see him live in concert. On that tour, he was backed by the legendary Booker T and The MG’s. It was a fantastic concert, one where Neil played a mixture of old and new material. At that time, he was going through his grunge phase. The noise he produced that night, was incredible. I was right down at the front, near the speakers. My ears rang for days afterwards. What fascinated me, and still fascinates me, is how different his material can be from one album to the next. Over the years, he has produced albums in styles ranging from folk, country, grunge, rock, rockabilly and soul. He keeps his fans guessing.You never know what a new album will bring. Harvest Moon was a great album, it was subtle and understated, featured some great songs and musicians. For longtime fans, it was like going back to the early years of Neil’s career, including Harvest. For me, it came at a good time in Neil’s career. From Eldorado in 1989, Neil produced one good album after another. During that period, he changed styles, attracted new generations of fans and became the Godfather of Grunge, influencing groups like Nirvana and Dinosaur Jr. Since then, Neil hasn’t slowed down, he still regularly releases albums and tours. Not bad for a man of sixty-six. Standout Tracks: Unknown Legend, Hank To Hendrix, Harvest Moon and One of These Days.

NEIL YOUNG-HARVEST MOON.

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