Monday, March 2, 2009

March 2: Neil Young, "Harvest"

Artist: Neil Young
Album: Harvest
Year: 1972
Label: Reprise

Neil Young had already established himself as a prominent force within the music scene after being a member of both Buffalo Springfield as well as Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. He had also proven his ability to create equally great solo efforts with three solid records after leaving CSNY. With 1972's Harvest, he created one of the most timeless records ever and gave the world some of his most recognizable hits.

One of the largest problems with attempting to review Harvest is the fact that nearly every song is so amazing that each deserves an entire blog on their own. Taking this undeniable fact into account, I will attempt to do the overall album justice.

One major thing of note on Harvest is the number of other artists who make appearances throughout the record. Former bandmates Crosby, Stills, and Nash all join the likes of James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt on backing vocals, while the London Philharmonic Orchestra serves as Young's backing band on a pair of songs. The fact that one of the finest classical units in the world appears on a country/rock record is a testament to just how varied Young's musical visions were and how dedicated he was to bringing them to life the way he saw fit.

Harvest is a gorgeous blend of styles that, in many ways, reflect the entire career of Neil Young. While the album as a whole has a country feel, musically it ranges from simple acoustic tracks, to fully orchestrated pieces, to more standard feeling rock and roll songs. Harvest boasts (at least) three of Young's most famous songs, including the enduring classic, "Heart Of Gold" as well as the confrontational "Alabama." The success of Harvest took a great personal toll on Young and, for some time, he was very reclusive and wanted nothing to do with the personal fame that the album had forced upon him.

Lyrically, Harvest may be the most heartbreakingly beautiful collection of songs in history. The overwhelming sense of melancholy and longing persist throughout the ten tracks. Lack of love is perhaps the strongest theme throughout the record and Young approaches it from various angles. Whether he is throwing lines like "...someone to keep my house clean, fix my meals, and go away..." or "...the woman I'm thinking of, she loved me all up, but I'm so down today..." it is clear that Young is at a personal crossroads. It is also obvious that he is more than willing to let the listener in on his innermost thoughts. Most of the songs on Harvest are clearly tales straight from Young's heart, including the legendary lament for his friends whom he lost to drugs, "The Needle And The Damage Done." Nearly every song on the album further solidifies Young's reputation as one of the greatest song writers ever to find a microphone.

Throughout the history of recorded music, few artists have explored as wide a range of different sounds as Neil Young. Making the music he wanted to and ignoring his label and critics, Young finds himself in the exclusive company of the likes of Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. Whether singing of loss or taking shots at ignorant musicians, Young says what is on his mind and says it beautifully. His fourth solo album, Harvest, features all-star guest appearances as well as some of the finest songs he has written in his five decade career. Harvest certainly makes a case as a "desert island album" and belongs in every music collection.

Standout tracks: "Out On The Weekend," "A Man Needs A Maid," and "The Needle And The Damage Done."

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