Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Album Review: Neil Young – Comes A Time

At this point in the mid to late seventies Neil Young was on fire creatively, releasing a string of excellent albums (not to mention the bootlegs). However, most of these were relatively uncommercial, and ‘rockier’ than albums like After the Gold Rush and Harvest. I went through a phase of dismissing these more accessible albums, thinking ‘rockier’ = better. This was short-sighted of me. Neil Young can groove mightily with Crazy Horse alright, but he can also write straightforward yet deeply affecting heartfelt songs. His best albums are probably the ones where he mixes the two styles.

He returned to the countrified, acoustic sound used on Harvest for this 1978 album, and from the opening bars of the aptly titled Goin’ Back, it fits him like a glove. The moment you hear the plaintively strummed guitars it feels comfortable, like an old sweater, enhanced by the beautiful string section. We’re definitely in country territory here, almost too much so as the fiddle on the title track is a little ‘hokey’. Behind the fiddle is another excellent melody.

Look Out for My Love and Lotta Love were done with Crazy Horse, so don’t share the warm, fuzzy feeling of the opening 2 tracks. Yet these tracks have their own charm, in a slightly less polished sort of way. The presence of electric guitar on the former is quite welcome, and the almost clumsy piano and harmony on Lotta Love work well.

Peace of Mind sees the return of the strings, like the sound of sunset in August. Like the rest of the album it’s a very relaxed song, all steel guitars and harmonies. Human Highway picks the pace up a little, adding banjo, and Already One is a nice, sentimental song without being mushy.

The final 3 tracks are not quite as strong as the opening 7. Field of Opportunity comes riding in on a tractor with a piece of hay in its mouth, Motorcycle Mama doesn’t quite work, despite the prominent vocals of Nicolette Larsson, while Four Strong Winds is just a little dull. This album doesn’t get the plaudits of Harvest, perhaps because it’s lacking a true standout track in the vein of Old Man or Needle and the Damage Done. Nevertheless it’s essential for fans of Neil Young’s work.