Neil Young
   
After The Gold Rush
   
   

Release Date: July 14, 2009 (1970)
Produced by: Neil Young & David Briggs
Format: CD

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11/06/2009
Mark Squirek


 

The crisp acoustic guitar on "Tell Me Why" opens the album with the same energy and authority that electric guitars announced on "Cinnamon Girl" on the previous release, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. After the release of Déjà Vu Young’s stock had soared. His last solo release had hit the charts and we all know how popular Déjà Vu was. This release was a deliberate attempt on Young’s part to marry CSN&Y with Crazy Horse. It worked because behind it all was the obvious link, Neil Young.

This is the album that for many, made Neil Young a giant. Yes, Harvest was more commercially successful, but on After the Gold Rush he achieved the perfect mix of folk and rock and harmonies and melodies and cryptic lyrics that have served him so well over the last forty years.

It also helps that his songwriting, already an incredibly strong part of his repertoire, took another leap forward. Melodies were now more obvious (Only Love Can Break Your Heart) and this time out the oblique nature of his lyrics (After the Gold Rush) struck a more personal chord with the listener. But the biggest asset of the record is his voice. Young has seldom sounded more sincere, commanding and assured of himself as a singer. After years of record companies telling him that they didn’t like Young’s voice, it sounds like he finally figures “screw ‘em, this is what I do and no one can do it better than me”.

(Don’t forget that he wasn’t even considered a vocalist in Buffalo Springfield until the end of the group. The record company thought they had Richie Furay and didn’t want Young singing his own songs. Young must have carried the discomfort of hearing that repeatedly for a few years).

In the age of albums, each side of the record was important and the song order was often carefully thought out. On each side the softness of the songs is balanced by a career-making rocker. Where Young succeeds the best is when he combines the two.

That happens most notably on "Southern Man". The song has become been made overly-familiar by it’s continual presence on almost every classic rock’s top playlist. Hearing the song with fresh ears, inside the context of the complete album and remastered so well, it is a revelation.

The folk-based harmonies inside the song have been heard so often that they are taken for granted. On the new remaster they jump out and soften the harsh blow of the electric guitar. But when Neil’s tight solo shows up, it is straight back to the wild electric sound of "Down by the River" and "Cowgirl in the Sand". Unlike those two songs (where Neil went wild and played for upwards of ten minutes on each), this time Neil keeps the song under 6 minutes which only serves to heighten the immediacy of what he is telling us. When he yells “I heard screaming and bull whips crackin’” you can now clearly feel his excitement and that ratchets everything up even further.

Without even blinking as the solo fades, he brings a gentle acoustic piano into the "Until the Morning Comes". With the sprightly piano and the muted horn work It sure sounds like a nice song, but think about what he is saying. Here is where Young’s minimalist lyric style leaves so much up to the listener.  All he is saying is that you have until the morning comes. It is a simple message, but why is he giving you a deadline? What do you have to do? Leave? Pay him money for the pot he fronted you? Go Fishing? As the song fades he takes the good feeling of the music even further as he is joined by some joyful background harmonies. The difference between the feeling that the music creates and what he is really saying is a wonderful balancing act.

He takes this approach of contradictions even further on "Don’t Let it Bring You Down". The music is downbeat and it sure sounds like it is meant to bring you down, but it’s message is absolutly positive. The image of a “dead man lying by the side of the road with the daylight in his eyes” may be matched to the music (bleak and foreboding) but it is the positive message of the chorus the erases the vision of death. In order to emphasize the positive message Young literally holds the song up for a second while he gets ready to remind you that it will be ok.

On the original album side two opened with the wide-screen harmonica of Oh Lonesome Me. The sound and feeling is a smaller match to the operatic "Country Girl" over on Déjà Vu. Once again it is the intimacy he creates with his vocal that brings the song so close to heart. The harmonies that Crazy Horse provide showcase what Young saw in them as a group. Unfortunately the song is just one of the few that Young was able to do with them before Danny Whitten took ill with his own demons.

"Birds" holds one of the most honest vocals in Young’s career. He may be saying that “it’s over” but you are being told with such sincerity that you can’t possibly be hurt. It is also a shining moment for Whitten and Ralph Molina as they support what he is saying so sweetly that any actual hurt you feel disappears.

Following this quiet moment is one of Young’s great, forgotten rockers, When You Dance. It holds a killer riff and some superb pounding piano by longtime Young cohort Jack Nitzsche. The song also harkens back to another song from Déjà Vu, Young’s collaboration with Stills on "Everybody I Love You". Both are actually super-strong choruses with shimmering and loud guitars. Sometimes that is all you need.

The record shines with the support Young receives, There is Whitten and Molina and the steady bass of Greg Reeves. Stills shows up for a few vocals and on top of everything else is Nils Lofgren. It was his big break and he came through like Al Kooper did on Like  A Rolling Stone. Playing the piano (when he thought of himself as a guitarist) Lofgren never fails. There may not be the one defining moment like Kooper had, but Lofgren conducts himself with a skill that denies his years. (Ok, I know the comparison between Kooper and Lofgren is bit of a stretch, but come on. Lofgren was barely 18 at the time! What were you doing at 18? Were you playing on a  Neil Young record? I sure wasn’t.)

Harvest and international super-stardom was right around the corner for Young. However, I don’t think he was ever as balanced and honest as he was on After the Gold Rush. You would be hard pressed to find an album where he sings so confident and with a such a sense of purpose and definition. Neither has he ever been supported by people so committed to “getting it right” for him. Lofgren never fails to honor the chance Young gave him that year. He went on to his own success and has come back to Young whenever asked. (He was the killer on both the Tonight’s the Night Tour and the Trans Tour). Crazy Horse has been saddled with the “sloppy garage band” title but on this album they were easily the equal of anyone who ever sang or played with Neil. No one let him down and through the course of all eleven songs Young doesn’t let us down either.

Since this is the third CD in the Neil Young Archives series, I wrote the following as a general note in reference to the remastering of all four releases. While each release has it’s own sonic quality, the following generally applies. I don’t mean to be lazy about the technical aspect, but for me the music has always been the central part of any release. I am just glad that Young finally had these cleaned up.

In 2009 the big question is “what does the re-release sound like?”. The answer is near perfect. Working in the HDCD format, the editing and mastering was done by Tim Mulligan. The tape restoration and analog transfer was handled by John Nowland. Each man has come through with flying colors.

This is the best this release could possibly sound. Even the traditional coldness of the digital age can’t contain the warmth in Young’s work and Mulligan and Nowland have found a way to showcase that warmth and humanity.

Also welcome is the restoration of the original graphics. The Young spent the time to hand write his lyrics for the original sleeve and this is the first time that work has appeared on CD.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 



 
     
     
     

 

 

   
 
     

 

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"Even though most of the people I knew in my youth are gone, I still reach out to them..." Norman Maclean - Paraphrase

"...we should enjoy every sandwich." -- Warren Zevon
"Buy the ticket, take the ride." -- Hunter S Thompson
"...you best wake up 'fore tomorrow comes creepin' in...: -- Mark Farner (Grand Funk Railroad)
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"Because they wouldn't let me go for three..." -- Woody Hayes (OSU)
"Show me peaceful days before my youth has gone" -- Neil Diamond (Serenade)