Sunday, March 05, 2017

Neil Young and Crazy Horse - Oh, Lonesome Me

Crazy Horse, who rose to fame as the backing band to Neil Young throughout his career, first started as a doo-wop band, with guitarrist Danny Whitten on the lead vocals. After a failed debut single (produced by Sly Stone) they, then named The Rockets, met Young, backed him in recording his second LP, the great "Everybody Knows This is Nowhere" and the rest is history. After it's release, Neil and the Horse returner to the studio, in late '69, to record some songs for a possible follow-up, with Crazy Horse once again as his backbone. But in what was to become the Neil Young way to do things, he scrapped most of it, and delivered something starkly different from his previous album: a collection of acoustic folkish songs, piano ballads, and a small amout of hatred towards the south. That was After the Gold Rush,  his first album to push in a direction he would then take advantage of in his blockbuster Harvest. But in there, Whitten and his colleagues were nowhere to be seen: with the exception of three songs, all of them feature either Young alone or him and session men. Here, we will try to fix that by putting together all songs Young, Whitten, Molina and Talbot recorded before the release of Gold Rush. By doing that, we will manage to both give the band more of a voice (some songs have Danny on the vocals) in his discography, and give a faithfull representation of where the band was at at the time. And, as is the norm around here, there are a few ground rules: the songs must have either been recorded or written by the time of After the Gold Rush's release. All of them (with two exceptions, one being a cover) must have been written or co-written by Neil, since it's his album. The ongoing rumour about this particular set of songs was that the album had the tentative title of Oh, Lonesome Me, after a Don Gibson cover they recorded. I don't really see much of a reason to name your new studio album after the only non-original in it, but hey, the internet doesn't lie, does it? As a poorly attempted cover, I used a mid-1970 pic of their playing live, with proper names and all. But let's focus on the music:

Side A:
1. Winterlong
2. Look at All the Things
3. Everybody's Alone
4. Come on Baby Let's Go Downtown
5. Wonderin'
6. It Might Have Been
Side B:
1. Oh, Lonesome Me
2. I Don't Want to Talk About It
3. When You Dance I Can Really Love
4. I Believe In You
5. Dance, Dance, Dance
6. Birds

The album has three live tunes: "Wonderin'" - introduced as "from my new album, when I record it", "Come on Baby Let's Go Downtown", that despite featuring a studio version without Young, is featured here live, in the same version later included in Tonight's the Night as a tribute to Whitten. And the third is "Winterlong", featured here this way due to a lack of a proper studio recording. The three songs are sourced from his "Live at the Fillmore East 1970" album. Two CH songs (not featuring Neil in them) are present in their studio versions: "Look at All the Things", written and sung by Whitten and "I Don't Want to Talk About It", as well by Whitten, was recorded along with most of Neil's tunes in late 1969. That leaves us with other six tunes: the album cuts "Oh, Lonesome Me", "I Believe You" and "When You Dance I Can Really Love", the single b-side "Birds" and the archives released "Everybody's Alone", "It Might Have Been" (a live cut). The album clocks in at about 42 minutes with equal sides, being basically the norm back in the day. Differently from most NY/CH albums out there, this effort really sounds like a group album, other than Shakey and his backing group. Here, Whitten and co. manage to get songwriting credit in three tunes, and vocal spots in four. And there's something you can notice on the sound of the album: it's a departure from their previous LP. Sure enough, the heavy songs are still there, and still great, but there are acoustic, country tinged songs in there, pointing the way to his next, more famous LP. His lack of control on the Horse songs makes for a interesting album too, in the sense that they add some variety to his tunes. Oh, Lonesome Me is in fact a transitional album, and due to the huge success of both the previous and next releases by him, would probably be largely ignored. It works as a showcase of Mr. Danny Whitten's talent and importance to Neil, before his tragic and early passing, adding to the poingnance of a album such as Tonight's the Night. But as it is, it is a great collection of songs, and that's about enough.

- Neil Young - After the Gold Rush
- Crazy Horse - Crazy Horse
- Neil Young - Archives, Vol. 1
- Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Live at Fillmore East