Category Archives: Musical Overview

Elvis Costello’s Albums 2000 – 2009

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During this period Elvis continued to play around and collaborate with more of his favorites, tried his hand at an even wider range of material, courted a new fan base through college radio, and married Canadian Jazz Pianist Diana Krall.  Another noteworthy item is the Sundance Channel series Spectacle: Elvis Costello with… which lasted two seasons.  Check them out on DVD.  Additionally check out Costello’s new album National Ransom out on November 2nd.

I have outlined the releases from this era below.  Please note what I deem to be the ESSENTIAL releases.

VonOtter_Costello-150x150 2001 – Anne Sofie Von Otter/Elvis Costello – For The Stars:  Costello’s collaboration with the famed mezzo-soprano opera singer.  Kinda of a snooty mash up between the rock and opera worlds.
Elvis_Costello_When_I_Was_Cruel-150x150 2002 – Elvis Costello – When I Was Cruel: A much more visceral beat driven experience, surprisingly influenced by the production Elvis was hearing in R&B and Hip Hop record from that time. For the first time Elvis employed the use of digital sampling, beat boxes, and more cutting edge tech. The album is one of my favorites and its success on college radio opened him up to a whole new legion of fans.  ESSENTIAL
Elvis_Costello_North-150x150 2003 – Elvis Costello – North: A bare stripped down record of ballads and melancholic jazz pop. Elvis’s most straight forwardly honest album lyrically. Half deals with his breakup with Cait and the other half with his budding romance with new flame Diana Krall.
Costello_Il_Signo-150x150 2004 – Elvis Costello – Il Signo: During his collaboration with the Brodsky Quartet and his involvement with Classical Music through the 1990s Costello taught himself how to read a write music.  This release is the fruits of his labor and his first orchestral composition played by the London Symphony Orchestra.   
Elvis_Costello_Delivery_Man-150x150 2004 – Elvis Costello & The Imposters – The Delivery Man: Debut of the Imposters, which is basically the Attractions with a different Bassist instead of Bruce Thomas. A fairly straight forward bluesy rock record recorded in Mississippi.  Features guest vocals from Emmy Lou Harris and Lucinda Williams.  ESSENTIAL
Elvis_Costello_Allen_Toussaint_River_in_reverse 2006 – Elvis Costello & Allen Touissant – The River in Reverse: Elvis renews his interest in the music of New Orleans with the help of local Allen Touissant for a full album collaboration. This is Elvis at his funkiest. Touissant acts as the perfect counterpoint to Costello’s stuffy British-ness.  You can also catch both artists in their multi-episode cameos in the recent HBO series Treme.  ESSENTIAL
Elvis_Costello_Momofuku-150x150 2008 – Elvis Costello & The Imposters – Momofuku: Named after the man who created instant noodles? Which is supposed to signify the albums nature of being written, recorded, and released very quickly. Features backing vocals from Rilo Kiley lead singer Jenny Lewis… for which Elvis traded an appearance on her second solo record Acid TongueESSENTIAL
Elvis_Costello_Secret_Profane_Sugarcane-150x150 2009 – Elvis Costello – Secret, Profane & Sugarcane: Another team up with producer T-Bone Burnett, this time a foray into Bluegrass,  which allowed him to play with some of Bluegrass Music’s best, like Jerry Douglas, Dennis Crouch, Jim Lauderdale and Stuart Duncan.  Unfortunately very weak.

Here is a playlist I have put together featuring my favorites from this era.  If you can not see the playlist below, please follow this link.

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Elvis Costello’s Albums 1986 – 1999

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A period of serious rebirth and artistic experimentation.  Along with the wider range of material Elvis released during this stretch you get a wider range of hit and miss as well.  There are heavier moments here, especially on Blood & Chocolate and Brutal Youth but for the most part you get a lot of mellow Elvis.  On top of all the music that he released during this period, Costello also curated Southbank Centre’s prestigious Meltdown festival in London in 1995.

I have outlined the releases from this era below.  Please note what I deem to be the ESSENTIAL releases.

Elvis_Costello_King_Of_America 1986 – The Costello Show King of America: This album is a rebirth in many ways.  Among those rebirths is his new love, Cait O’roirdon of the Pogues and the move away from using The Attractions as his sole musical accompaniment.  Instead he was able to hand pick musicians that fit his renewed vision.  This time that vision was guided by new friend and producer T-Bone Burnett.  This album signaled lots of changes, including a new bearded and publicly charming Elvis. Overall the Album has a great unadorned feel, but is also a bit over-indulgent.  His first album for Columbia records.
Elvis_Costello_Blood_Chocolate-150x150 1986 – Elvis Costello & The Attractions Blood & Chocolate: Back with Nick Lowe and The Attractions for another shift in focus to a more direct rock record from the loose subtle feeling of King Of America.  The recording for this album was purposefully stressful as Costello was trying to bring a little tension into the music, which added to the bands already mounting discontent.  At first glance it seems just another Costello/Attractions album, but listening to it now you will be suprised it was recorded in 1986 as it seems a bit ahead of its time.  ESSENTIAL
Elvis_costello_Spike-150x150 1989 – Elvis Costello – Spike: A great solo album in the tradition of King of America and Imperial Bedroom.  Would be the album that includes the lion share of the material he worked up with Paul McCartney.  Elvis’s most instrumentally ornate album to date.  Featured more cherry picking of musicians.  ESSENTIAL
Elvis_Costello_Mighty_Like_A_Rose-150x150 1991 – Elvis Costello Mighty Like a Rose: Elvis seemed to have forgotten what he learned from T-Bone Burnett on this record as he just wouldn’t leave the material alone.  Elvis was getting heavily into classical music and experimenting with computers so the album has a very busy, over-tinkered feel.
Elvis_costello_Brodsky_Quartet_Juliet_letters-150x150 1993 – Elvis Costello & The Brodsky Quartet – The Juliet Letters: Elvis’s full on classical album with the very accomplished Brodsky Quartet.  A true collaboration between the two entities.   The album was based on a discarded project from a Italian professor in which he would respond to the thousands of letters that are written to fictional character Juliet Capulet.  An absolutely brilliant collaboration in which the Brodsky Quartet classes up Costello and Costello lends traditional pop song structures.  ESSENTIAL
Costello_Harvey_GBH-150x150 1994 Elvis Costello/Richard Harvey GBH: The original score for the British television show which stands for Grievous Bodily Harm.  Pretty much what you’d expect – instrumental music.
Elvis_Costello_Brutal_Youth 1994 – Elvis Costello Brutal Youth: Switching gears again, Elvis set out to do a raw rock record.  Originally just going to be just Elvis and Attractions Drummer Pete Thomas, but turned into an accidental Attractions reunion.  They pull it off again, releasing another solid record far past their prime.  ESSENTIAL
Elvis_Costello_Kojak_Variety-150x150 1995 – Elvis Costello Kojak Variety: Costello’s second album of covers, this time featuring a wider range of material.  Actually recorded in 1990, but not released until 1995. A pretty underwhelming release all around.
Elvis_Costello_All_This_Useless_Beauty-150x150 1996 – Elvis Costello & The Attractions All This Useless Beauty: Basically a pastiche of material that Elvis had written for other artists but wanted to reclaim as his own.  Most of the material is pretty weak and the production was purposefully wimpy.  This would be the last time Elvis works with Attractions Bassist Bruce Thomas and his last full record for Warner Bros.
Elvis_Costello_Bacharach_painted_from_memory 1998 – Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach Painted from Memory: Full fledged collaboration with the pop standard legend.  They end up balancing each other out quite well even if you are biased towards Costello’s style. Bacharach was able to rain in Elvis lyrically and vocally while Elvis was able to add a little grit to Bacharach’s very glossy instrumentation and production. Released on Mercury Records.

Here is a playlist I have put together featuring my favorites from this era.  If you can not see the playlist below, please follow this link.

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Elvis Costello’s Albums 1980 – 1985

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The first half of the 80’s were a very tumultuous period for Costello both musically and personally.  He keeps the 1 album a year pace here with the addition of a bonus covers record released in 1981.  Although he kept the pace this period was full of ups and downs and that is evident in the music.

I have outlined the releases from this era below.  Please note what I deem to be the ESSENTIAL releases.

Elvis_Costello_Get_Happy 1980 – Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Get Happy!!: Initial attempts at recording a follow up to Armed Forces failed, which led the band to try something different. Classic Soul songs were used as inspiration too much success. This release sees yet another label switch, this time to F-Beat. The Album features tons of great songs, and twenty tracks in all.  ESSENTIAL
Elvis_costello_trust-150x150 1981 – Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Trust: On this record the songs are moodier and the material is more varied than past releases.  Costello had just released 4 full lengths in 3 ½ years, but the great songs just kept on coming. This album would be the last appearance of Costello’s original production team of Roger Bechiran and Nick Lowe.  ESSENTIAL
Elvis_Costello_Almost_Blue-150x150 1981 – Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Almost Blue: Having tired of singing and writing his own songs, Elvis retreated to one of his greatest loves… Country Music. Costello’s first album made up of strictly covers which was half heartedly produced by legendary country music producer Billy Sherill. The combination didn’t gel and the album unfortunately falls flat. The second album released in 1981.
Elvis_Costello_Imperial_Bedroom-150x150 1982 – Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Imperial Bedroom: With the original titles Music To Stop Clocks, then This Is A Revolution of The Mind Elvis and band intended to go big.   This time produced by studio vet and wizard Geoff Emerick who learned his craft working with The Beatles. There was a lot of problems going on during the recording of the album but the band persevered.  What they ended up with was the most emotionally and musically sophisticated albums of their career.  ESSENTIAL
Elvis_costello_Punch_the_clock-150x150 1983 – Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Punch the Clock: Produced by British New Wave hit makers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, who were sought out to try and capture a more commercial sound as Costello was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with his album sales. The album is what you would expect, a glossy sometimes cheesy representation of the bands sound. There are still a few great songs despite all the horns and female backup singers.
Elvis_Costello_Goodbye_Cruel_World-150x150 1984 – Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Goodbye Cruel World: Once again produced by Langer and Winstanley, which is surprising when you consider how conflicted Elvis was during the recording of the previous record. The process was once again a challenge and very laborious. What you end up with is 2 good songs out of a very weak record overall. At the time of this record Elvis was nearing the end of his marriage to Mary, his love affair with Bebe, and his work with the Attractions (at least exclusively).

Here is a playlist I have put together featuring my favorites from this era.  If you can not see the playlist below, please follow this link.

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Elvis Costello’s Albums 1977 – 1979

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Declan McManus toiled away in his pub rock band Flip City and part of the duo Rusty during the mid 70’s.  Then punk hit and it gave him the impetus to become Elvis Costello and he hit the ground running releasing an album a year from 1977 to 79.  I have outlined the releases from this era below.  Please note what I deem to be the ESSENTIAL releases.

Elvis-Costello-My-Aim-Is-True-150x150 1977 – Elvis Costello – My Aim Is True: Elvis’s debut, originally released on Stiff Records. First appearance of the production team of Roger Bechirian and Nick Lowe. Elvis was not backed up by The Attractions right out of the gate. On his debut he is backed up by the Stiff Records Rock Band in residence – American band Clover which was later known as Huey Lewis & The News. How bizarre! Contains some of Costello’s most loved songs including “Allison”, “Watching The Detectives”, and “Mystery Dance”.  ESSENTIAL
Elvis_Costello_This_Years_Model-150x150 1978 – Elvis Costello – This Year’s Model: His first record with The Attractions and their signature keyboard driven sound. Written and recorded after their first UK and US tours. As you can tell from the record it is fuelled by a generous helpings of sex, drug, and Rock & Roll debauchery. Released on Radar Records. The great songs just don’t stop on this record which makes it my all time favorite Costello record.  ESSENTIAL
Elvis_Costello_Armed_Forces-150x150 1979 – Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Armed Forces: A more sophisticated album, but still with a little edge.  This release dwells on military imagery, originally titled “Emotional Facism”.  A mixture of material dealing with both his failing marriage and his affair with American model Bebe Buell.  ESSENTIAL

Here is a playlist I have put together featuring my favorites from this era.  If you can not see the playlist below, please follow this link.

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The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie

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Woody was born in 1912 in Okemah, Oklahoma and started on his ramblin’ ways at an early age.  He moved from Pampa, Texas to California to New York City; drifting through the rest of America in between.  The musical impact of Guthrie is immeasurable to modern folk music as well as popular music as a whole.  Woody’s music in my opinion is wildly under appreciated, so I hope I can help turn a few people on to it.  His music brims with American authenticity and down to earth charm.  Guthrie in my mind served as a very important bridge between the golden age of real American folk music and the very influential Greenwich Village based NY Folk Movement of the 1960s.  Not to mention the specific singer songwriters that he influenced over the years which include, but are not limited to Pete Seeger, Rambling Jack Elliott, Billy Bragg, Bob Dylan and Joe Strummer.

Now that I’ve read Woody’s memoir, seen the motion picture based on it, listened to almost all of his recorded works, seen both major documentaries, I think I can say I know quite a bit about the man.  I’m not equipped to give you the whole story, but I have put together a quick list of surprising facts about the man that may just prompt you to dig further.

Interesting Facts:

  • When Woody moved to NY he hooked up with America’s musical elite, including Pete Seeger, Leadbelly, Sonny Terry, Josh White, and Brownie McGee.  I think its important to mention that this group was integrated which was unusual for that time even for musicians.
  • Most may be surprised to find out Woody had some interesting political connections.  In California Woody found Communism to be sympathetic to his views on labor rights and the poor.  Woody also wrote a column called “Woody Sez” for a Communist newspaper.  Granted this was before the second red scare (1947 – 1957) so the worlds views of Communism was much different.
  • Woody’s life and family was plagued by fire.  His mother started his first family home on fire, his sister was killed in a fire, and his mother tried to set his father on fire.  Later in his life his daughter life would also claimed by fire.
  • Woody’s mother was very troubled and was put in an insane asylum early on in his life.  Later on Woody would find out that she suffered from Huntingtons disease and it would be his fear that he too would develop the symptoms.  Sometime in the late 1940s Woody started to show the signs and eventually died from complications of the disease.
  • Woody married 3 times, the third was with a woman much younger than him named Anneke who he met on one of his many hobo journeys away from his family in NY.
  • In one strange turn of events, Woody was sent to a mental hospital in New Jersey and they just assumed he was making the story up about the fact that he was a famous folk singer.

Woody’s recordings are difficult to navigate.  Most of what you will find available now are second rate budget compilations and a handful of quality legitimate releases.  The transfer of his music over the years has been a slow process from the now defunct formats over to today’s digital formats.  Below I have provided a guide to the highlights of Woody’s recorded output as it is available today with notes.

  • Dust Bowl Ballads
    – In 1940 Woody had a professional breakthrough when he was commissioned by RCA Victor to write some dust bowl songs on the heels of the success of the film version of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.  This release contains the songs from both volumes of Woody’s original RCA Victor releases.
  • Library of Congress Recordings, Vols. 1-3
    – An interesting listen as you hear Alan Lomax interview Woody as he tells his story in his own words.  It is unfortunate that the dialog is not tracked out from the songs though which makes it un-listenable as an album.  Recorded in 1941.
  • Columbia River Collection
    – Contains all the songs that the Bonneville Power Administration commissioned Woody to record for a film promoting the Grand Coulee Dam being built on the Columbia River in Oregon.  This material was recorded in 1941.
  • Almanac Singers:  Their Complete General Recordings
    – A collection that compiles all of the Almanac Singers recordings with General Records in 1941.  Although you can find two other albums of material from The Almanacs this material is the only that features Woody Guthrie in the recordings.  He sings only 5 songs but is there to accompany for the rest of the material.
  • The Asch Recordings, Vol. 1-4
    – This 4 disc box set is compiled from the wealth of material that Woody recorded between 1944 and 1947 for Folkways record label owner Moses Asch.  The discs organize Woody’s songs into themes, the first volume being a sort of best of collection, Volume two being a set of mainly folk and country standards, Volume 3 is a collection of topical/political songs, and fourth volume is made up of cowboy/western songs.
  • My Dusty Road
    Boxset – Another stash of songs that were recorded in the mid 1940s this time for Moses Asch and Herbert Harris that were recently recovered in an old woman’s basement.  By far the best collection of Woody’s songs available today – the song selection is great, and everything sounds clear as it has all been restored from the pristine masters.  Similar to the Asch Recordings boxset each disc has a loose theme and are entitled as follows:  Disc one – Woody’s Greatest Hits, Disc two – Woody’s Roots, Disc three – Woody The Agitator, and Disc four – Woody, Cisco and Sonny Jam the Blues, Hollers, and Dances.
  • Ballads of Sacco & Vanzetti – Unfortunately not a very good record. The album is a bit sloppy and suffers from Woody’s freewheelin’ verse, most of which just doesn’t quite fit.  It could however be called the first concept album having been recorded between 1946 and 1947 about two Italian radicals who were executed in America in 1927.
  • Nursery Days & Songs to Grow on for Mother and Child – These two volumes of kids songs were released by Smithsonian Folkways long after Woody wrote and recorded these songs in 1947.  Written during Woody’s last burst of creativity before he lost control of himself due to his Huntingtons.

Shockingly, what you will not find is one solid compilation out there that showcases all of Woody’s best songs.  Both boxsets that are available have the first disc which is devoted to giving you a version of Woody’s “Greatest Hits” but I would say both fall short, as do all the budget compilations.  What the compilers have to contend with of course is a very large body of work that spans from around 1940 to around 1947 in which Guthrie recorded for many different labels.  What I have put together below is my version of Woody’s Greatest songs which span that whole period and pull from every label.  I even pulled from his work with the Almanac Singers although the only thing I ended up including was their version of the Woody Guthrie penned songs “Union Maid”, which Guthrie does not actually appear.  I hope you enjoy it, as it took me a lot of time and contained a lot of difficult choices.  (If you can not see the embedded playlist below, follow this link.)

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The Music of Muddy Waters

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Take a moment to realize the huge influence this man has had on Rock N Roll and popular music as a whole.  In 1962 The Rolling Stones formed in England taking their name from his 1950 song “Rollin’ Stone”.  In 1967 Jann Wenner created Rolling Stone Magazine after that same song.  Along the way he has influenced countless British and American Rock & Blues musicians, not to mention his direct involvement in turning up the volume of blues with the introduction of electronically amplified instruments.

When you think of Muddy Waters you probably think of his Chess Records hits.  Most people don’t realize that Muddy first recording was in 1941 while living on cotton farm in Mississippi way before the guitar had been amplified electronically – he was playing good old acoustic country blues from the Mississippi Delta.  He was recorded by none other than Alan Lomax (& John Work III) the famous American field recordist for the Library of Congress.  Once Muddy moved to Chicago in the mid 40s his first records were with the Chess brothers original record label, Aristocrat records.  Muddy didn’t officially record for Chess Records until 1950 when the label was born.  From 1950 – 1975 Muddy records many sides and albums for Chess but the majority of his best songs come from the years 50′ – 58′.  After Chess was sold to a few different companies in the 70s Muddy recorded a few albums for CBS/Sony, most notable are Hard Again and I’m Ready.

I put together a playlist of my favorite Muddy Waters tracks spanning his whole career.  Keep in mind you will be unable to find an official release that compiles all his best songs spanning his whole career because of licensing issues.  The best compilation of Muddy’s overlooked original Lomax recording is called The Complete Plantation Recordings.  The best career retrospective compilation (believe me there are many) that I could find is called The Anthology released in 2001 by MCA Records.  This 2 CD set features Muddy’s best tracks from his Aristocrat recording in the late 40s and all his best stuff from his many years at Chess Records.  Lastly a few songs from his best CBS/Sony recordings which I mentioned above are also included.  Navigate to the playlist via Grooveshark.com here.

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The Music of Hank Williams

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I don’t think I could overstate the importance of Hank Williams to the music of the past and present.  His material is absolutely timeless and fills a space in musical history between Jazz/Blues and the beginnings of Rock n’ Roll.  Not to mention the fact that he was one of the original tragic figures in music, living a life of hard drinkin’ and misery.  Hank Williams burned out way before Hendrix, Joplin, or other countless stars.

I just finished reading a biography on Hank Williams and although the book wasn’t great, it was enjoyable and enlightened me to quite a few things I did not know about Country Music’s greatest star.

Here are some interesting facts.

1.  Hanks real name was Hiram King Williams.

2.  At age eleven Williams began learning to play and sing the blues from an old Blues man by the name of Rufus “Tee-Tot” Payne.  Sadly there are no known recordings of Payne and he died and was buried in an unmarked grave in the late 30’s.

3.  The women in Hank’s life were forces to be reckoned with.  First of all you had his mother Lillie who brought him up by herself after his father left at an early age.  In 1944 Hank married another tough and uncompromising woman by the name of Audrey.

4.  Although Williams wrote most of his own material he definitely had help.  In 1946 Hank struck up a professional relationship with a Nashville’s own Tin Pan Alley songwriter by the name of Fred Rose.  Hank came up with the basics and then Fred would edit the lyrics and tune up the music.  He also took care of the business side including the recording and relations with the record company.

5.  During the last few years of his career, Williams recorded music under the pseudonym “Luke the Drifter”.  The material was what he called “Recitations” but could more clearly be described as religious themed stories of morality.

6.  In 1952 after he was divorced from his first wife Audrey, he decided to insert himself into Country Musics famous Carter family.  For a short while he even courted one of the Carter daughters and almost accidentally shot June Carter (yes, June Carter – wife of Johnny Cash) during an argument with Audrey his first wife.

7.  Hank died on the way to a New Years show on New Years Day 1953 in the back of his famous powder blue convertible.

I put together a list of my favorite Hank Williams songs.  If you do not see the embedded playlist below, follow this link.

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Neil Young’s Albums 1989 – 1996

1989 – 1996 was a period of creative and professional rebirth for Neil Young.  He was inducted into the Rock N’ Roll hall of fame in 1995 and enjoy a renewed popularity and critical acclaim.  He would also be connected by the media to the hottest new music buzz word/style as the Godfather of Grunge.  I have outlined the releases from this era below.  Please note what I deem to be the ESSENTIAL releases.

neil_young_eldorado-150x150 1989 – Neil Young – Eldorado EP: Just 5 songs, 3 of which appear on his next release Freedom.  The first glimpses of Neil back on his game.
neil_young_freedom-150x150 1989 – Neil Young – Freedom: Neil’s best album since 1979’s Rust Never Sleeps.  This release is book ended by a live acoustic version and studio  version with full band of the great anthemic song “Rockin’ in the Free World”.  ESSENTIAL
neil_young_ragged_glory-150x150 1990 – Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Ragged Glory: Neil reunites with the Horse and famed producer David Briggs for this album that proved that he and the Horse could still rock out.  I have always thought that the title of this record was the perfect descriptor for the bands particular brand of raw, unbridled rock n roll. ESSENTIAL
neil_young_harvest_moon-150x150 1992 – Neil Young – Harvest Moon: This album was partly intended to be a sequel to one of Neil’s most popular albums Harvest, having roughly the same players and feel as the original.  It unfortunately doesn’t quite live up to it’s predecessor but it is a solid and consistent release.  ESSENTIAL
neil_young_sleeps_with_angels-150x150 1994 – Neil Young – Sleeps With Angels: Neil was creatively reinvigorated and he claims he was inspired by the tragic suicide of Kurt Cobain.  Sadly the albums release would precede another death, as David Briggs would die of lung cancer in 1995.  This was their last collaboration together.  The album features some of the most instrumentally and tonally diverse to come from the band.
neil_young_mirror_ball-150x150 1995 – Neil Young – Mirror Ball: Instead of using Crazy Horse on this release he decided to enlist Pearl Jam and they were happy to back him.  Whatever your opinion of the band they are a tight rock band and they provided a great backdrop to some enjoyable songs on this release.  ESSENTIAL
neil_young_broken_arrow-150x150 1996 – Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Broken Arrow: Along the same vibe as the previous two records.  After this record Neil would retreat from public life and go on a long hiatus. 
Live Albums from this period:
neil_young_arc_weld-150x150 1991 – Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Arc/Weld: Weld is a great heavy set of Neil/Horse classics.  This conventional live album was also releases as a double disc set that included the bonus disc Arc which is a bit of an anomaly being it was a compilation of snippets of shapeless heavy distortion recorded during that tour. 
neil_young_unplugged-150x150 1993 – Neil Young – Unplugged: Famously preformed twice because Neil wasn’t happy with the first performance.  In fact he was so unhappy with it he paid for the first performance himself.  Although he was extremely sensitive about the decision to team up with MTV on this, he ends up putting out a compelling acoustic performance with some great acoustic versions of classics like Mr. Soul, Pocahontas, and Transformer Man.  ESSENTIAL

Here is a playlist I have put together featuring my favorites from this era.  If you can not see the playlist below, please follow this link.

This will be my last post on Neil Young… for at least awhile.  I will not be covering Neil’s music from 2000 on as I have found little interest in it outside of a few releases.

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Neil Young’s Albums 1981 – 1988

1981 -1988 were tough years for Neil Young.  At the start of this period he had just signed a million dollar per album contract with Geffen records (and had differences with them throughout the whole period) and his second child had been diagnosed with severe cerebral palsy.  At times during this period you could tell he was burnt out on making music.  To be honest, the releases from this period are challenging and you will be hard pressed to find any songs that come close to the brilliance of those he recorded in the sixties and seventies.  Young’s methods, recording technology, attitude, and band members all changed many times during this period.  I have outlined the releases from this era below.

neil_young_reactor-150x150 1981 – Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Re-ac-tor: The next step on from the heavier tracks off of Rust Never Sleeps.  Unfortunately the mix is off and the material is uninspired. 
neil_young_trans-150x150 1983 – Neil Young – Trans: Young take a hard left turn here and releases an album that features 5 vocoder heavy/electronic music tracks and 3 conventional rock tracks, which completely mystified his critics and fans. 
neil_young_everybodys_rockin-150x150 1983 – Neil Young & The Shocking Pinks – Everybody’s Rockin’: Another genre switch here, this time to Rockabilly.  At the very least features some entertaining songs, some even are a little funny… but the album is representative of this era as they feature style over substance.  
neil_young_old_ways-150x150 1985 – Neil Young – Old Ways: Most of the material was originally recorded in 1982 but not release until 3 years later because of problems with his label.  This time around its a country album for Neil and a cast of guest country stars including Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. 
neil_young_landing_on_water-150x150 1986 – Neil Young – Landing On Water: If I had to label this release with a genre it would be “over-produced corporate 80s synth pop.  A few goods songs but overall probably one of his worst albums.
neil_young_life-150x150 1987 – Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Life: Back to Crazy Horse again after releasing 4 albums without them.  You get a few decent track among an album that includes some 80s synthy stuff and some conventional NY w/ CH tracks.  Note the cover art featuring someone behind bars with a NY poster on the back wallwhich eludes to his feelings about his record label at the time.  This would be his last record with Geffen (except for the shotty best of from this period entitled Lucky 13.
neil_young_this_notes_for_you-150x150 1988 – Neil Young & The Bluenotes – This Note’s For You: Neil’s first album back on his original label Reprise Records.  This time Neil is backed by The Bluenotes (including a 6 pc horn section) for a album of Blues and R&B numbers.  Includes the song “This Note’s For You” which Neil actually won a the Video of the Year award at the MTV video music awards in 1988 which MTV had previously refused to play because they were parodied the video.  
csny_american_dream-150x150 1988 – Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young – American Dream: Young reunites yet again with these burnouts.  What you get is a bunch of tracks from the wash-ups and a few halfway decent numbers from Neil. 

Even though it is a difficult era, I thought I would still put together a playlist below of my favorites songs from it.  If you can not see the playlist below, please follow this link.

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Neil Young’s Albums 1973 – 1980

I have recently discovered that 1973 through 1980 is my favorite era of Neil Young’s music.  It includes my favorite Album, On The Beach.  It was a dark period for Neil but it is filled with broken hearted gems.  I have outlined the releases from this period below.  Please note what I deem to be the ESSENTIAL releases.

neil_young_time_fades_away-150x150 1973 – Neil Young – Time Fades Away: A strikingly noncommercial followup to 1972s hugely successful release Harvest.  An album of new material recorded entirely live in concert.  Neil had to fire guitarist Danny Whitten before the tour started and he overdosed and died shortly after.  What you get is an extremely raw recording of some of Young’s most emotional songs drunkenly delivered on this album that is still unreleased on CD.  ESSENTIAL
neil_young_on_the_beach-150x150 1974 – Neil Young – On The Beach: Another mid 70s gem that didn’t see a proper CD release until 2003.  Young is joined on this revelatory set of music by Cajun Countryman Rusty Kershaw.  The album has a great vibe all the way through and is probably one of Young’s most consistent recordings.  ESSENTIAL
neil_young_tonight_the_night-150x150 1975 – Neil Young – Tonight’s The Night: Originally recorded in 1973 but not released by Young until 75.  A legendary release known for its loose off kilter cuts.  Book ended by the title track, “Tonight’s the night”, an interesting reaction to loosing both Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry to drugs.  ESSENTIAL
neil_young_zuma-150x150 1975 – Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Zuma: The debut of new rhythm guitarist Frank Sampedro. Young and the Horse return to form along with his producer David Briggs.  ESSENTIAL
stills_young_band_long_may_you_run-150x150 1976 – The Stills Young Band – Long May You Run: Young reunited with his old band mate from Buffalo Springfield on this release.  Really the only song that came from these sessions that is worth a damn is the title track by Neil. 
neil_young_american_stars_bars-150x150 1977 – Neil Young – American Stars ‘N Bars: A fairly mediocre collection of songs thrown together that includes one of my favorite tunes “Like A Hurricane”. 
neil_young_comes_a_time-150x150 1978 – Neil Young – Comes A Time: Young’s most accessible music since the release of Harvest in 1972.  Put together from acoustic demos with the band overdubbed in.  Some really great songs that wasn’t released on CD until 1988.  ESSENTIAL
neil_young_rust_never_sleeps-150x150 1979 – Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Rust Never Sleeps: Some regard this as Young’s last great album until his resurgence in the early 90s.  Another album book ended by a great song, this time the Rock N’ Roll epic “My My, Hey Hey…” / “Hey Hey, My My…”.  Some of the other tunes on the album would be his hardest edged songs so far.  ESSENTIAL
neil_young_hawks_doves-150x150 1980 – Neil Young – Hawks & Doves: Another fairly mediocre mix of tracks which include a few great stand outs including the experimental “Lost In Space”. 
Live releases from this era:
neil_young_live_rust-150x150 1979 – Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Live Rust: A great live album including most of the tunes from Rust Never Sleeps along with great renditions of some of Young’s classic tunes.  ESSENTIAL

There are also two albums during this period that Young had put together and sadly decided not to release.  They are known by the titles Homegrown and Chrome Dreams (Young released Chrome Dreams II in 2007 as somewhat of an inside joke).  They both featured the song that were scattered throughout his output in the 70s but some tracks have still not seen release.  If you really search you may be able to find fan re-sequenced releases of Chrome Dreams put together by what songs were said to be included.

Here is a playlist I have put together featuring my favorites from this era.  I tried to stay away from the most well known tunes.  If you can not see the playlist below, please follow this link.

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