Saturday, July 23, 2011

Michael Fremer Album Review

A Treasure
(archival new release)

Neil Young and the International Harvesters

Reprise 527650 2 180g LPs (three sides)

Produced by: Neil Young and Ben Keith

Engineered by: Tim Mulligan

Mixed by: Tim Mulligan

Mastered by: Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman Mastering



Young Archive Performance Series Delivers Gem
by Michael Fremer
July 01, 2011

Neil Young's 1980's country music phase wasn't appreciated by his record label at the time but the fans accepted it, certainly more than they did what came previously: dips into computer music (Trans) and Rockabilly (Everybody's Rockin'), which was digitally recorded. Somehow digital recording and Rockabilly don't go together but it took Neil a while to figure that out. And that Rockabilly record had Neil in an odd mood. Read his biography "Shakey" and it was clearly a difficult time in his life.

Back to country was a return to musical comfort food, yet Young was doing more than looking for a personal comfort zone during the mid '80s: he was on a mission to help save small farmers, fighting with his record label and touring with the International Harvester Band without a new album to push.

So it was all about the music and not at all about product. Young had assembled a superb band made up of some who he'd worked with often and some never before, including steel and slide guitarist Ben Keith, fiddler Rufus Thibodeaux, pianists Spooner Oldham and Hargus "Pig" Robbins, bassists Tim Drummond and Joe Allen and drummer Karl Himmel and others.

Those looking for Young's dark side won't find it here. This is about having fun, cheerleading for Detroit (it would 35 years for something to cheer about), singing about love and adventure, some country shtick ("Let Your Fingers Do the Walking") and a great cover of Buffalo Springfield's "Flying on the Ground Is Wrong."

Young is in great voice, sincere and open throated, and holding notes cleanly and producing phrases that soared and lingered before fading into the strong musical backing.

Strong playing, great singing and a vibe that's long gone in today's very dark America, listening to this three-sided set can't help but restore your sense that perhaps we can have better days ahead here. At least you sure can listening to this! Even the set's throwaway tune, the shaky blues "Soul of a Woman" has music making compelling enough to overcome the flatness of the concept.

The tracks were recorded 1984/'85 in Nashville, Austin and Pasadena Texas, Berkeley, Universal City, St. Paul and New York City. Three of the tunes ("Bound for Glory", "Motor City", "Southern Pacific" and "Nothing is Perfect") haven't been previous released other than on bootlegs.

Side three ("Southern Pacific" "Nothing is Perfect" and "Grey Riders") carries the most weight. Young sings with sincere passion about railroads, one of his favorite subjects. "Southern Pacific" is long and gives everyone a chance to stretch out., but no one takes it to excess. "Nothing is Perfect" is about accepting ones lot in life, the good and bad.

As Neil was singing this song, he was dealing with his disabled son and the heroic efforts both he and his wife Pegi undertook to improve their son's lot. If you've read "Shakey" you know what this is about. Knowing the back story ads depth to the song. "Grey Rider" concludes the album with a powerful electric guitar-driven scenario. Side four is a lacquer etching.

The album's sonics vary as you would expect with so many venues involved. but all are very good, with a mid outdoor space perspective. You can smell the 80s air on the best tracks.

This is not an absolutely essential Neil Young album but as the one that bridges the gap between the searching for his roots Neil and the one who actually found them A Treasure serves a worthwhile function for new and old fans alike, though perhaps the standard weight vinyl will suffice for all but the diehards.

Thanks to Michael over at  for the exclusive rights to reprint this material. Stop by for more reviews and features.

©2011 & Michael Fremer - - All rights reserved

Reprinted by Permission

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