Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Zuma

Release Date - November 10, 1975
Label: Reprise Records 

I know I've already hit two of Neil Young's 1970s albums, but I just listened to this again, and figured I might as well finish up Neil's best trio of records.

I've already covered the last two albums of the Ditch Trilogy - On The Beach and Tonight's The Night.  Tonight's The Night was recorded earlier (but was held up for two years by the record label), and was made in the wake of what Neil described as his most nightmarish tour, the death of two close friends, and his own addiction problems.  On The Beach paints the picture of a man recovering, with cynical themes, but without the air of utter despair.  If the ditch trilogy is the window into the soul of a man who was at rock bottom, Zuma is the product of a man who had rediscovered hope.

For the first time since Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Crazy Horse was given partial credit for the album.  Crazy Horse existed independently of Neil Young before Nowhere, and while they did (in various combinations) assist Young during subsequent tours and recording sessions, they also released two or three albums of their own.  Crazy Horse was more than just Neil Young's backup band, and if you listen to Nowhere and Zuma, and compare them to all of Neil's albums in between, it becomes obvious how profound an influence they have.

When you listen to Zuma, you can tell that Young was in a completely different state of mind than he had been the few years prior.  Gone are the loose, drug-influenced jams found on the back side of On The Beach, and gone are the painfully raw vocal strains and desperation found on Tonight's The Night.  Zuma is a very tight record; it is straightforward, melodic rock music from start to finish.  The Neil Young who was passionate about delivering a well made, enjoyable rock song has returned.  While there aren't any cuts that achieve quite the epic greatness of "Down By The River" or "Cowgirl in the Sand" (though "Cortez the Killer" comes close), Zuma has to be strongly considered for the title of Neil Young's Best Rock Record.

Zuma starts out with a revisiting of a song Neil wrote while in high school called "I Wonder."  Here it's called "Don't Cry No Tears," and while it has the same melody, it manages to be decidedly 1970s instead of 1960.  We're then treated with a classic Neil Young guitar rock song, "Danger Bird."  "Pardon My Heart" is a nice little acoustic guitar-based love song.  The best track on this album, "Cortez The Killer," features some of Neil's most famous guitar work, a classic epic in the vein of "Down By The River."  "Cortez" fades out at the end because the band actually ran out of tape while recording (the song clocks in at seven and a half minutes).  The final track, "Through My Sails," is actually a Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young track cut from a recording session whence an album never materialized.

Zuma has always been one of my favorite Neil Young albums, and along with Nowhere, it firmly placed Young (along with Crazy Horse) into the echelons of the rock greats.

Track list:
1Don't Cry No Tears2:34
2Danger Bird6:54
3Pardon My Heart3:49
4Lookin' for a Love3:17
5Barstool Blues3:02
6Stupid Girl3:13
7Drive Back3:32
8Cortez the Killer7:29
9Through My Sails2:41

Note: For the rest of March, Zuma is one of Amazon's $5 mp3 downloads.  Jump on it while you can (granted, you can pick up the CD for not much more than that).


Thursday, March 3, 2011

New Release: Eisley - The Valley

Release Date: March 1, 2011
Label: Equal Vision Records

Not sure why I decided to listen to this one... Possibly because it's brand new, and I found it streaming on the internet.  Anyhow, this is an indie-pop band made up of a family (four siblings and their cousin) from Tyler, TX.  Having heard absolutely nothing of this band, I had no clue what to expect (well, the band name is derived from Mos Eisley, so I expected it to be good).

The album title, The Valley, refers to the recent hardships endured by the members of the band.  One of the DuPree sisters had a failed marriage.  The band faced an uncertain future after leaving their record label.  With this in mind, I was expecting an album filled with desperation and melancholy.

The lyrics, as expected, are melancholy.  They sing of heartbreak, disappointment, and pain.  This is all well and good, but this music has a decidedly happy sound.  The tunes are poppy and infectious, and the production is polished and crisp.  The result is an album where there is a mismatch between the music's tone and that of the lyrics–and unfortunately, it's not done in a way that leads you to believe they're just being ironic.  The Valley is ultimately a failure; while every song is listenable, I can't help but think this is maybe just a notch above your typical white suburban female pop punk (think Paramore).  Nothing here grabs me and says, "Hey, you gotta listen to this again."

The first clue something is wrong is that the longest track is only a minute longer than the shortest.  Tolerable, but uninteresting.

1The Valley3:20
3Watch It Die3:09
5Oxygen Mask3:25
6Better Love3:20
7I Wish3:54
9Mr. Moon3:53