FORK IN THE ROAD – Neil Young (Reprise)
Granted, it’s not the most involving or hi-falutin’ piece of work that Neil’s unleashed in his long and distinguished recording career, but “Fork In The Road” has a nice, saw-toothed edge that’d sit nicely with most garage bands a third his age. Plus, it has the added bonus of not being “Greendale.”

Neil has an eco-friendly car. If you didn’t know already, you will by the end of “Fork”. The Grizzled One never seems to be happy unless he’s neck-deep in a project. It used to be train sets and it’s now energy efficient automotives (engineered by an Aussie, by the way, who was totally in the dark about Youngy’s music). So if your tolerance for green messages is low, get your muscle car kicks elsewhere.

Maybe’s it’s the back-to-the-garage ethos at work but to my ears the best-sounding cut is “Fuel Line”, a clanking, metallic ballbreaker of a tune that recalls the garbage can lid percussion racket of Andre Williams’ “Silky” album on In The Red. It

On first listen the repetitive “Cough Up The Cash” had all the charm of a “Re*act*or” outtake. Of course it’s meant to be repetitive, in the same way that a stock report or downward trend-line is. That doesn’t stop it from being dumb but, hey, neither are some of the greedy money market fuckers it seeks to condemn.

"Just Singing a Song" is one of those perplexing tunes where Neil declaims what many folk would want him to be - a change agent through song - on an album that would seek to effect change through song. Nice mid-paced change of pace anyway but Young's intentions are often as blurry as the CD's front cover photo.

The extras features are perplexing. I suppose a DVD of saturated 5.1 versions of the album is OK for people who love home theatre systems. Mine's a crappy woofer in a wooden box with some unruly children masquerading as sub-speakers and connected by ugly wires. It sounds like a doof doof car about to croak, so giving it cranked up re-mixes is like tossing a strawberry in the path of a pig. The home-made film clips will be for fan consumption only – unless the thought of Neil lip-synching while paddling a canoe on a lake gets you reaching for the popcorn.

"Fork In The Road" manages to be neither unsubstantial or a landmark. It's just an idiosyncratic, character-laden record with balls that most kids on major league touring circuits would be hard-pressed to emulate. - The Barman


PRAIRIE WIND - Neil Young (Reprise)
Following Neil's previous "Greendale" CDLP / project (and the mixed response this received) and subsequent devastating personal traumas including a brain aneurysm and the passing of his father, some may have questioned whether Neil would have the inspiration or motivation for another recording project. However, alongside the recording of his new CDLP "Prairie Wind" he has been reportedly preparing (and some may cynically suggest as usual) an archive of all his '60s and '70s recordings and a live concert filmed in Nashville at the former home of country music The Ryman Auditorium, the former home of "The Grand Old Opry".

As the name "Prairie Wind" may suggest to some, loud guitar rock recorded with his longtime cohorts Crazy Horse, should not be expected here and the quieter country/roots inspired music; he has recorded over the years on his albums such as "Harvest", "Comes a Time", "Harvest Moon" and "Silver and Gold" appears throughout much of the album.

"Prairie Wind" opens with 'The Painter' (reportedly the first song written for the album) is seemingly his observations on (not surprisingly) a painter whose dreams and aspirations may or may not be fulfilled and is then followed by "No Wonder" where his unique vocal stylings are in strong effect as with the opener and hints of loud Crazy Horse-styled guitar fuzz are mixed with some tasty organ and fiddle work.

"Far from Home" appears to be a departure of sorts when compared to the rest of tracks on the CDLP; and is a slightly more up tempo tune with the intriguing combination of slide guitar, harmonica and horns and includes vocals from Mrs. Pegi Young and is a definite highlight, as Neil seems to reflect and possibly yearns for a quieter rural life on "the prairie". "It's a Dream" then follows and with Neil seemingly moving to piano, this may remind some of the classic track "After the Goldrush", but with slightly larger augmentation with brushes and strings; the resemblance to the former ends with the use of piano as Neil seems to reflect on past hopes and aspirations now long gone.

The title track follows and as with "Far from Home" tasty acoustic guitar is combined with interesting use of horns, harmonica, dashes of organ and guest vocals from wife Pegi and this mid tempo tune displays Neil in what seems vocally quite emotional and inspired.

Another highlight of the CDLP "Here for You" and is an easygoing tune which musically slots alongside songs such as "Heart of Gold" or "Harvest
Moon", which features pedal steel, strings and harmonica and is then followed by "This Old Guitar" which includes guest vocalist Emmylou Harris;
as Neil reflects on cherished old guitars.

"He was the King" is a homage to Elvis Presley but retains the rootsy rock backing and features some fine pedal steel; slide guitar; harmonies; subtle horns and harmonica, as Neil reflects fondly on "the king", despite the king's sad ending and makes a reference to that corny old line "Elvis has left the building" but instead offers "Elvis has left the arena", which draws chatter and laughter from his band mates. "When God Made Me" closes the album with Neil in a reflective mood and moving to piano, as he appears reflects on his life and the role of the almighty god in his life and the twists and turns, ups and downs that have been apart of his life.

Prairie Wind is a strong effort from Neil, when one considers it may not have been and when it is heard alongside his quieter country/roots music inspired efforts. - Simon Li


ON THE BEACH - Neil Young (Reprise)
AMERICAN STARS AND BARS - Neil Young (Reprise)

With the Grizzled One making a long-awaited return to Australian shores in November 2003, it's timely to consider these re-issued albums, which have finally become available in digital form for the first time.

These two are among four albums from the back catalogue ("Re-actor" and "Hawks and Doves" being the others) to be unleashed from the so-called Missing Six, the half-dozen Young efforts that remained out-of-print for umpteen years. Still unreleased are "Journey Through the Past" and the wonderfully ragged live mayhem of "Time Fades Away", the latter for lack of source tape, apparently. I wouldn't dwell on the uninspired sludge of "Re-actor", even with the ultimate numbskull band Crazy Horse doing the driving, or the slight country-folk of "Hawks and Doves". But these two are another matter.

If you're wondering why the I-94 Bar would bother with the output of someone like the Neilster, think again. As diverse (code for "erratic") as his oeuvre is over 30-plus years, Young has provided some of Rock Action's finest moments down the years. Forget his dodgy involvement with the wimpish Crosby, Stills & Nash or dalliances with easy listening country rock ("Harvest") and wigged-out electronica ("Trans"). Think "Down by the River" or "Cinnamon Girl". Neil has done more pushing of boundaries than just about anyone you can name. Plus he plays searing, wandering lead guitar at excessive volume.

Very little of which is evident on "On the Beach", which nevertheless is one of his most intense long players. Assembled in 1974, during stylistic moves away from the chart success of "Harvest" and deep in a dark period of loss of musical and life partners, "On the Beach" is rightly lauded and truly loaded with great songs. These are mostly long-winded workouts, as brevity has never been Neil's strong point.

The playing is introspective, even restrained, the vocalising edgy and strained in classic Young style (see: "For the Turnstiles" for evidence of the latter). "Revolution Blues" is disturbing role-play, in which Young takes on the persona of someone who can only be a member of the Manson family (and I don't mean Marilyn). "Motion Pictures" is a harrowing breakdown song (pointed in the general direction of Young's then de facto, actress Carrie Snodgrass) and "On the Beach" an equally stark piece.

A different kettle of fish is "American Stars 'n' Bars", unleashed three years later and far removed from what passed for AOR (slickly soft country rock and stadium pap) or underground (punk or the first stirrings of new wave) at the time. Built on a base of ramshackle, rustic country ("Old Country Waltz", "Homegrown", "Saddle up the Palomino"), mellow reflections ("Will to Love", "Star of Bethlehem") and conventional raunch ("Bite the Bullet"), it's replete with Young's usual lyrical contradictions and distinctive vocal delivery.

It's an odd album that jumps around stylistically, driven as it is by two distinctly different bands. On one hand, you have the likes of Ben Keith and Tim Drummond (both since confirmed long-time Young sidemen), with the late Nicolette Larson and the very much still alive Linda Rondstandt on harmonies, and on the other you have Crazy Horse, in all their ham-fisted, primal glory.

If you want a reason to buy this it'll probably be the centrepiece, a stunning Crazy Horse-accompanied epic called "Like a Hurricane", which clocks in at 8min20sec. Long a staple of Neil's live sets, it's arguably one of his finest electric moments. Young wails away and the Horse plods along, laying the bedrock for some of Neil's best guitarwork in years.

Now if I can just get my mind around "Greendale" (the description "environmental concept album/ rock opera" still scares me), I'll be set for the November Australian live shows. - The Barman

1/2 - On the Beach

- American Stars and Bars

ROAD ROCK VOLUME 1 - Neil Young (Reprise)

Another live album from the Flanelette Shirted One and it'll fill the gap until he heads back into the studio and rocks out (1999's gentle "Silver and Gold" not quite doing it for me in that regard).

This time, Youngy finds himself estranged (again) from Crazy Horse and treading the boards with a band that's an altogether different animal (Jim Keltner on drums, Duck Dunn on bass, Ben Keith on guitar/pedal steel and half his family on backing vox). The songs don't suffer from the more deft touch and Neil is in fine voice.

The backline changes but Youngy doesn't; his stunning lead guitar work is rambling all over the place as usual and imparting more passion and feeling in one note than most of his contemporaries do in an entire album. The excesses of the Crazy Horse live albums is stripped back a little, but it's essentially Neil Young playing Neil Young (with the exception of a Bob Dylan cover, a duet of "All Along the Watchtower" with Chrissie Hynde, included for who knows why because I've heard a better version on a bootleg with Booker T and the MGs supporting).

You can tell a lot about a Neil Young album by the song selection and length so here are a few clues: "Cowgirl in the Sand" (18 minutes long), "Words" (11 minutes), "Tonight's the Night" (10 minutes). All are worth the time expended. There's the previously unreleased "Fool For Your Love" (nothing special), a great take on "Walk On" and the fairly ordinary "Motorcycle Mama".

Young's dubbed this "volume one" so maybe we'll hear more (though, at last count, in the live album stakes he had already issued three doubles, two singles and an unplugged effort), but that could be just another ruse in the many the cunning old Canadian has pulled over the years. Me, I'm still waiting for the promised box set, though I'm going to die wondering if there are any more cuts from the Lost Dogs sessions that produced the Australia/Japan only EP of more than a decade ago ("Cocaine Eyes" was a KILLER track).

If you like Neil Young amped up and ears bleeding, and don't mind him taking a breather from the plod-and-stomp of Crazy Horse, you'll like this. - The Barman