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Neil Young – CNE 1985 (Stringman Record CDR SR-002-003)

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CNE 1985 (Stringman Record CDR SR-002-003)

Grandstand, Canadian National Exhibition. Toronto, Ontario, Canada. August 17, 1985.

Disk 1 : Country Home, Comes A Time, Looking For A Love, Heart Of Gold, This Old House, Bound For Glory, Southern Pacific, Sugar Mountain, Helpless, Nothing Is Perfect, California Sunset, Down By The River. ( 75:56 )

Disk 2 : Old Man, Powderfinger – Encore applause / Band introductions – Get Back To The Country / Grey Riders. ( 23 :52 )

Trumping the newest official archive release wether by craftiness or default Stringman’s latest release may be from a year later but still features the International Harvesters – The band that toured with Young for his 1984 / 1985 tour. From the press release for ‘A Treasure’ – The 12-track live album, A Treasure includes songs – 5 of which are previously unreleased – recorded during Young’s 1984 and 1985 U.S. tours without the support of an album, or Young’s then record label due to unique and unusual circumstances. Among those, “Grey Riders” will be the first track serviced to radio.

A Treasure features Young’s onstage work with some of the greatest artists in the history of Country music, including the late, great Ben Keith on steel and slide guitar and Rufus Thibodeaux on fiddle, along with living legends Spooner Oldham and Hargus “Pig” Robbins on piano, Tim Drummond and Joe Allen on bass, Anthony Crawford on mandolin & guitars and Karl Himmel on drums, among many others.

A Treasure is Young’s first release since last year’s Grammy and Juno Award-winning album, Le Noise. The live album captures this iconic artist during a fascinating time in his career, when he was facing criticism and lawsuits from his then current record company for exploring a more traditionally country sound. “You can call me erratic,” Young said when asked at the time about his tendency toward musical shape-shifting, “but I’ve been consistent about it, consistently erratic.”

Always celebrated for his musical versatility, A Treasure, is akin to a sonic time capsule, instantly transporting the listener to the time and place when it was made. “I love this record,” Young says. “I hadn’t heard these takes in 25 years, but when we unearthed them co-producer Ben Keith said, ‘This is a treasure.’” Part of what makes A Treasure so compelling is the musical contributions of The International Harvesters, with whom Young was playing at the time. Many of them were already paragons within the country music world and their notoriety has only grown in the years since. “I just love to hear those guys,” Young says. “They’re all country music legends.”

Those behind the scenes also made significant contributions to A Treasure’s sonic potency. Tim Mulligan mixed and mastered the tracks. At the time these songs were recorded, Bob Sterne was the tour manager, Tim Foster ran the stage, and Larry Cragg was in charge of the band’s instruments. This release is obviously not the soundboard compilation that the official release might be but is instead a very good audience recording set right in the heart of the crowd (It sounds like the stage is around 12 feet high), picking up the audience chatter, clapping & hollering & the instrumentation really well even if Neil’s voice is a little set back in the mix.

This release finds Neil amongst his country friends rather than hanging on to any of the styles that he had furnished us with in the earlier 80′s – His electronic as opposed to electric “Trans” period, the Rockabilly phase, et al. The tour was mainly in support of his passed over & rejected album “Old Ways” which Neil would record after ire was raised over his previous two albums. His bitterness only seems to run one way at a time though so rather than play against his fans this time he was playing for them & would bring along a selection of his better known & much loved tracks throwing them in among the unreleased collection. The show begins with an as then unreleased “County Home”, possibly intended for the original “Old Ways” album but left unused until 1990′s “Ragged Glory”.

Weather the audience have been privy to the wavering chords & bombast before or they’re just happy that Neil is playing tonight is unclear but they applaud at the beginning and after the first line non the less. The song itself remains unchanged apart from the fiddle that meanders through the track. “Comes A Time” is just as well received but then this one HAS seen the light of day. The reception it gets is understandable too as it would be one of the last & strictest Young tunes before his new label recordings. After “Lookin’ For A Love” Neil Introduces “Heart Of Gold” as ‘Heres one for all you grandma’s out there .. I know you’re out there.

To all you Momma’s & all you future mommas .. This ones for me too .. ‘ before a wildly enthusiastic roar of approval. From the new ‘Old Ways’ album the the band through a brotherly “Bound For Glory”. A sweetly tempered amble through the story of two star crossed lovers destined to meet one night. It’s hardly biographical in the way a lot of Neil’s songs have been but centers round a old old fashioned mode of story telling. “Southern Pacific” tells the story of one of Neil’s loves – the train that would flash by the house where he used to live & the story is of a man who used to work on that very same train. The song that follows is one of Neil’s trademark epics.

Running over 9 minutes in length, the wail of the fiddle replicating the bellow of the trains horns, the percussion take the mantle of the clacking along the tracks. While it may not be one of those tracks that gets held under strong light for inspection & picking apart then it fields it’s place steadily among the likes of ‘Cowgirl In The Sand’ or ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ in the longevity stakes & the musicality & imitation of the rail road ways positively hold the interest. The two tracks that follow are staunch Young classics – “Sugar Mountain” heralds two warming, acapella, sing along’s between Neil & the audience while Young, as usual, throws in a couple of simple chord changes to give the crowd their own version of the song to take away with them ( There is a small fade in the tape after this track but it cuts out nothing from the performance. )

“Helpless” is back at home in Canada. A warm bath of comfort & peace for all attended here tonight. The first of tonight’s ‘Archive’ songs “Nothing Is Perfect” is possibly the least required of the bunch. A winsome throwaway that certainly doesn’t say much but takes a while to say it. “Down By The River” gets it’s omnipresent & deserved airing tonight. Neil describes it as a song about “When the darkness took control one night .. ” that confuses a member of the crowd who is stood close to the taper. He soon gets the message when he hears the grind & crunch of the now familial chords. Usually when the track is played accompanied by guitar, bass & drums then it sounds like a scream from the bottom of the earth, tonight, infused with the rolling pace of the piano & the madness of the fiddle it sounds to have a little more body & a little more evil about it. As usual the trusted soloing is ever present but tonight it includes a jazzy, sparse piece on piano that plays chicken between Neil’s guitar thrusts.

The song layers up to become more & more intense as the mood deepens & the instruments spar closer & closer. Needless to say it is one of tonight’s highlights & deservedly so. “Old Man” helps to soften the edges & is sung nearly word for word by the attended before coming to an end that’s akin to a falling leaf. The encores include “Get Back To The Country” – Neil’s request that we start to look towards the simpler things in life via it’s frenetic bluegrass stomp.

Guaranteed to have the audience standing up & shouting out until their voices are lost. “Grey Riders” would be another new addition to the set & due to it’s non-appearance on any official release ( Until ‘A Treasure’ is released ) then it has been high on collectors want lists for quite a while. Cut from the same cloth as Neil’s darkest compositions it’s furious & frenzied ballast swings this way & that rocketing around the venue like a song possessed. Until the sound board recording appears then this will appease the bootleg collecting fanbase eager to hear the track if they don’t have it lined up already.

The recording quality itself best left to a CDR then but it cannot be taken lightly that this period of Young’s career has been quietly talked about but does deserve due attention with the best of the rest of his recorded output. The fuzzy & pixelated artwork gets the thumbs down again but as it’s not the most important thing about this release it’s a minor quibble at best.

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Neil Young - CNE 1985 (Stringman Record CDR SR-002-003), 1.8 out of 5 based on 3 ratings

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