Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Rockaliser 30: Neil Young, Journey Through The Past (1972)

[Welcome To the Rockaliser 30, a month-long series devoted to classic albums that have been eclipsed, forgotten, misheard, or otherwise not given their propers. This is Day Ten. Archive here.]

The soundtrack to a film Neil Young directed in 1972, Journey Through The Past is a truly cobbled together effort. It’s more scattershot than most bootlegs, but does a good job surveying the work that Young and his peers produced from the mid-60’s onward. The quality of this material--most of it live versions and studio outtakes--is blessedly high, enough to make this confusing collection a rewarding listen. It also serves as a reminder that, no matter how isolated and alone Young sounded on record, he came from a specific scene and often relied heavily on his collaborators to step up his game.

This is particularly evident given that a quarter of the album is live versions of CSNY and Buffalo Springfield tunes. There’s a stomping “Mr. Soul,” with some shimmering guitar work. “Rock and Roll Woman” is another highlight, whose backing vocals bring to mind Beach Boys harmonies stranded in the prairie.

There’s also a 16-minute “Words (Between The Lines Of Age).” While it’s nearly three times as long as the version on Harvest, I’d be lying if I said it actually sounds that different.  It’s the same song, probably from the same sessions, given more time to let the dread sink in.

A great, possibly definitive “Southern Man” sees Young and Stills stretching the song out into a scrappy, vindictive jam. Not everything is a clear improvement, though, and several songs show up here in abbreviated form. Many are interspersed, oddly, with studio dialogue.

Young saves the weirdest stuff for the end. The Tony & Susan Alamo Christian Foundation Orchestra & Chorus get two songs, one of them “Handel’s Messiah.” They also do a tune by a the guy who scored Double Indemnity, on which they sound like a gypsy caravan. The penultimate track, “Soldier,” is the only new Young composition on Journey Through The Past. It’s a searching piano ballad, in keeping with the gloomy material Young would exorcise from himself on his next few albums.

Journey Through The Past closes with “Let’s Go Away For Awhile,” the Pet Sounds instrumental.  The subdued grandeur of Brian Wilson’s tune matches some of Journey Through The Past, other parts not so much. But it’s a fitting close, in its way, to an album that ranges across American music, too restless to settle in any one place.

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