Neil Young

Reprise Records, 1993


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Harvest Moon saved Neil Young from popular obscurity. (I'll now pause so Young's diehard fans can fire up Netscape mail to flame me.)

There are undoubtedly fans of Young throughout the years who could name me at least one song on every album he's done that have remained in the public eye... and by no means am I ripping into Young. But Harvest Moon did earn him significantly more airplay, and helped to attract a new fan base to his music. (One of these days, we'll review Harvest Moon here on "The Daily Vault".)

What it also helped to do was to introduce Young to the MTV generation - a group that, as far as I know, last saw Young in the double-time video for "Wonderin'" back in the '80s. His stint on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 MTV Unplugged made sure that the words "Neil Young" and "hip" could be used in the same sentence in the '90s without causing some people to laugh. Unplugged, the 1993 souvenir from that TV performance, shows Young's strengths, as well as a few limitations.

As long as I have Young's fans already pissed, let's throw a little more fuel on the fire, and get the negatives out of the way early. Young is not the strongest singer (something he'd probably admit cheerfully), though the emotion of his performances easily outweighs any stylistic flaws in his voice. Likewise, Young's playing is occasionally erratic; you can hear him blow a chord or two on the opening song "The Old Laughing Lady" and while playing the pump organ on "Like A Hurricane". (I'll give Young credit for not going back and overdubbing these in the studio.)

Now that we have some people hyperventilating with anger, let's quickly move to the positives about Unplugged, of which there are many. If you're not very familiar with Young's vast body of work, this album is a great primer for you. From story songs like "Pocahontas" (written well before Disney's venture) to the stark beauty of songs like "Mr. Soul" and "Helpless," Young proves often that he is a songwriter par excellence, even if some of his best work was never appreciated in its time.

If you're a diehard Young fan, hearing old standbys like "The Needle And The Damage Done" (one of the most powerful anti-drug songs ever recorded), "Like A Hurricane" and "Long May You Run" (originally done by the Stills-Young Band) will put a smile on your face that can't be erased. Peppered into the mix are some of the best tracks from Harvest Moon (which Young was promoting at the time of his MTV appearance). "From Hank To Hendrix," "Unknown Legend" and "Harvest Moon" sound incredibly crisp - though my personal favorite rendition of "Harvest Moon" was Young's solo guitar performance on Saturday Night Live.

There are dozens of tracks I wish that Young had included in this set - what about "Cinnamon Girl"? "Lotta Love"? "Heart Of Gold"? Still, Unplugged is a powerful set that shows the resurgence in Young's popularity was no fluke.

Rating: B+

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© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Reprise Records, and is used for informational purposes only.