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Neil Young & The Stray Gators – Definitive Last Album (no label)

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Definitive Last Album (no label)

Bakersfield Civic Auditorium, Bakersfield, CA - March 11th, 1973

Disc 1 (47:35):  Sugar Mountain, Tell Me Why, Sweet Joni, Old Man, band introductions, Heart Of Gold, The Loner, Lookout Joe, Time Fades Away, Don’t Be Denied

Disc 2 (47:50):  Introduction of David Crosby and Graham Nash, Alabama, New Mama, Last Dance, Southern Man, Cinnamon Girl, jam (Let’s Have A Party), Are You Ready For The Country?

Neil Young’s March 11th, 1973 date in Bakersfield, California is one of the best sounding recordings of this difficult time in his career.  As Michael Cheah writes:  “It’s not for nothing that Neil Young has so far refused to release on CD Journey Through The Past (’72), Time Fades Away (’73) and On The Beach (’74), all made within months of each other and sharing the same source of guilt, self-doubt and regret. That’s a lot of pain to pour out onto three albums over three years after hitting the ceiling with Harvest and the million selling single, ‘Heart Of Gold,’ in 1972. 

“These early shows were reportedly erratic. Drugs, booze and money had opened a gulf between Young and his band. While The Stray Gators had Tim Drummond, Kenny Buttrey, Jack Nitzsche and the sad/tragic pedal steel of Ben Keith, they seldom matched the power they had in the studio. On the longer numbers like ‘Cinnamon Girl,’ Young plays one way while the band strays on another path.  And without Whitten to offer backup and vocal support, Young sounds out of tune at times and hoarse.

“By the time the tour reached Bakersfield, Crosby and Nash were invited by a sullen Young to offer support and they come on for six songs here including  ‘Alabama,’ ‘Southern Man,’ ‘Cinnamon Girl’ and ‘Are You Ready For The Country,’ all of them angry and in no need of the soothing harmonies of Crosby and Nash. This was rock star excess in self-destruct mode. It is this strain that lends the bootleg its title, Last Album….Last Album is a document of painful honesty that will likely never be repeated.”

Sound quality of this tape is one of the best from the era for Neil Young.  It is from right in front of the stage and captures the complete concert in stereo.  It first surfaced in the seventies on the vinyl release Last Album and was pressed on silver disc on Last Album (Zeus Z903001/2) with bonus tracks from St. Petersburg, Florida and Buffalo, New York.   

Definitive Last Album utilizes the new first generation cassette digitally transferred by JEMS.  The show starts off with a long version of “Sugar Mountain.”  Young’s voice is very rough, lending a hostile quality to much of the material.  He stops the song in the  middle and says to the crowd, “let’s do that chorus again so I can hear what Bakersfield sounds like” and even stops playing guitar. 

“sorry we had to cancel, hope we didn’t inconvenience you too much”  “my closest friends have never heard this song” before “Sweet Joni.”  This is the first of only two performances of the song.  It is a slow piano ballad with a simple harmonica at the end.  The lyrics, giving a slice-of-life glimpse into the life of Joni Mitchell, are oblique and laughable.  It would be preformed in the next show two nights later in Denver then disappear forever.  And since no tape of that show exists, this is the only recording in circulation of “Sweet Joni.”

The rest of the band comes out for “Old Man.”  There is some sort of ruckus onstage.  The tapers mention something about Young’s mother and Neil can be heard yelling, “I got a concert going on here, man” to someone off-mic. 

“Lookout Joe” is dedicated to “all the soldiers coming home from war.”  Two new songs follow, both recorded on this tour for the next album Time Fades Away.  ”Don’t Be Denied,” due to Young’s hoarse voice, sounds much more raw and intimidating than the performance in Phoenix used for the LP.

The mood lightens when David Crosby and Graham Nash come onstage, joining for heavy renditions of “Alabama” and “New Mama.”  But afterwards there is a delay because of the equipment, and a considerable about of time is spent tuning up.  Crosby plays the opening notes to The Byrds’ arrangement of “Mr. Tambourine Man.”  Young jokes that “Last Dance” is for “all the wallflowers.” 

The new song is long and obviously challenging to the musicians onstage, and Crosby jokes “take pity and do a song I know the chords to for once” before “Southern Man.”  There is another delay and Nash tells the audience that ”it’s a three hour tour – don’t sweat it” while they tune up again and asks if the restaurant they went to is the same one Merle haggard uses.

Then Young introduces “Cinnamon Girl,” speaking about the girl he saw and chased when he was eighteen, chasing her even after being married.  When they come for the encore there is a short jam before “Are You Ready For The Country?”

Definitive Last Album is packaged in a double slimline jewel case with basic information printed on the inserts.  Along with Last Album Forum and Time And Words, this is the third excellent title to surface from this tumultuous time in Neil Young’ s career worth having. 

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If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)

Neil Young & The Stray Gators - Definitive Last Album (no label), 2.5 out of 5 based on 4 ratings

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  1. Avatar of sionxxii
    sionxxii says
    August 8, 2013, 9:53 am

    I am constantly amazed at how great sounding tapes appear and sound greater than the original 1970′s boots. This one and Godfather’s Pink Floyd “At The End Of The Raimbow” are just astonishing.

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  2. Avatar of robert green
    April 7, 2011, 9:57 pm

    Is this a noticeable/substantial upgrade from Last Album (Zeus Z903001/2)?

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