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Neil Young - “Hitchhiker” (2017) review


Neil Young - Hitchhiker (2017)

If anything, Neil Young is predictably unpredictable … and truth be told, I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a drawback, because right after he releases something brilliant such as Psychedelic Pill, he’ll come out of left field with something that leaves me scratching my head as nearly nothing, other than a few songs here and their come even close to the moving and specular material he laid out during the late 60’s and early 70’s, especially with his band Crazy Horse.

Here on Hitchhiker, we find Young turning to his literal massive musical vaults, thumbing through a collection of songs that were recorded nearly back to back over a single afternoon, admittedly very stoned, at Indigo Studios in Malibu on August 11th of 1976 … a very strange summer for those of you who weren’t there then, a month after America’s bicentennial, an event that came off like a wet firecracker. Of the ten tracks found here, eight of them would show up later, some much later on other albums. The opener “Pocahontas” would make itself known on Rust Never Sleeps, which came out in ’79, then there was American Stars ’n Bars, a really difficult album for me to get into that contained “The Old Country Waltz” in ’77, with the title track that wouldn’t show up for nearly thirty-five years, until the release of Le Noise, by which time I was pretty much done with Mr. Young, his tantrums, his lectures, and his endless social and societal rantings.

It’s important to understand that nearly all of Neil Young’s material is cobbled together from other adventures, including his brilliant After The Gold Rush, which was also subjectively pieced in place from a variety of sessions which used a variety of artists. Now, releasing material that has been recorded within a year or two of its conception is one thing, and as with After The Gold Rush, made for an intoxicating album, but this album is a different story all together, with ‘story’ perhaps being the operative word, as we’re given songs that have not been fleshed out, nor are they what might be called acoustic ‘unplugged sessions.’ These songs come off as mere sketches, some better than others, but more designed to give a window into the mind and thinking of Neil Young during a time when he was becoming more erratic, and to my way of thinking, a bit mad, if you you will. Of course there are those who say that this gives the songs a new perspective, especially when considering “Hawaii” and “Give Me Strength,” both new to this album, yet not new to those familiar with Young’s catalog.

All of this gives me pause, causing me to question why I would be interested in this, or what Young may be attempting to convey. Of course with the interest in the huge Pink Floyd catalog, where the consideration of a single note change is subject for debate in nuance and implication, has me wondering whether Neil is simply swamping us with material because he knows it will be profitable, or if he’s welcoming us into his home, his world and his fragile mind. One thing for sure, songs such as “Powderfinger” and “Hitchhiker” have been subjectively changed right down to core of their essence. To say that the release of Hitchhiker is unpolished is certainly an understatement, to say that it sounds incomplete is also justified. There are those who are going to initially rate this outing highly, but in the end, it’s going to be shelved and forgotten, as has most of Neil Young’s material, as our hands reach for more of that polished precise wanderlust that came from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Harvest and After The Gold Rush.

Now, I’m in no way attempting to claim that anything needs to be justified, though that being said, this is a sketchbook of sorts, often out of focus, complete with eraser marks. Hitchhiker is archival material designed for the obsessive fans only, a sort of mood-ish jam, one that doesn’t rest easy, nor does it sonically resound with emotion. Hitchhiker is not a series of pieces from an unfinished puzzle, if anything, the album is a series of footnotes in a continuing conversation of unanswered questions regarding Neil Young. Again, if I was forced, or attempting to explain or justify this release, I’d have to say that Neil Young was apparently very unsatisfied with his presentation and performance in the summer of 1976, though not with the material itself, as eighty percent of these tracks have found their way onto other recordings … so here [laughing], you’ve been given the opportunity to purchase and hear something that even Neil Young didn’t like.

With all that in mind, I will say that the vinyl pressing is excellent, warm an wasted in that eloquent manner that Neil demands.

*** The Fun Facts: Hitchhiker wasn’t the only of several albums Neil Young saw fit not to release for one reason or another, the two most famous are Chrome Dreams and Homegrown.

- Jenell Kesler
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