“Blind man running through the light of the night ”: After the Gold Rush (Neil Young)

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Year: 1970

Genre: Country Folk

Preceded by: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969)

Followed by: Harvest (1972)

Related to: Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young – Déjà-Vu




Last time I spoke about the influence of a certain Neil Young on the music of My Morning Jacket. Neil Young is a man who used to rear chickens to sell their eggs when he was just a boy. Neil Young is the man Martin Scorsese had to re-edit his rockumentary ‘The Last Waltz‘ (about the goodbye concert of American group The Band) for, to get rid of the cocaine that was hanging from Neil’s nose during his performance. But above all, Neil Young is the man who delivered some of the most classic albums in music history.

Young was born in Canada where he became interested in pop music as a teenager and started to perform as a singer-songwriter in 1960, at the age of 15, after dropping out high school. During the early sixties, influenced by Bob Dylan, Young discovered that he also had a talent for writing beautiful folk songs. So in 1966, he left Canada and took off to Los Angeles, the place to be at that point for everyone with a guitar and some good songs. After meeting Stephen Stills, they founded the band Buffalo Springfield together. That band would fall apart after only two albums caused to high tensions between the band members, especially between Stills and Young. Where did we hear that before? Right, Young would join Stills again in 1969 for the super group Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, another group that was condemned to a short existence.

But during those years in between, Young had already released two solo albums. In 1968 he debuted as a solo artist with the self-titled album Neil Young, including one of his well-known songs: ‘The Loner’. But Young apparently wasn’t such a loner after all, as he arranged a new backing band for his second album (Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, 1969): Crazy Horse. This new combination resulted in some lengthy jams with that typical guitar sound Young was developing at that moment. Young considered Crazy Horse as ‘his Rolling Stones’, just like he saw Crosby, Stills & Nash (who he joined shortly afterward) as ‘his Beatles’, . They claimed worldwide fame with Déjà-Vu, broke up again and Mister Young was now ready for his international break-through as a solo-artist, trying to combine Crazy Horse and CSN on his next album: After the Gold Rush.

How to accomplish this better than letting Crazy Horse jam with you on a couple of tracks, inviting Stephen Stills to do some backing vocals and CSNY band member Greg Reeves to play the bass? The result is a stunning classic album, mainly consisting of country folk songs, a genre that originated in the early sixties, when folk artists started more and more to reinterpret old country songs, in this way establishing an hybridization of folk music with country music. As one characteristic of the genre is the presence of thoughtful and personal lyrics, this album is the perfect representative.

The album starts with the typical country sound of ‘Tell Me Why’. It’s just Neil and his acoustic guitar, till the backing vocals kick in, giving this opening track a little more weight. You can guess after the meaning of the song for yourself. The second track is my personal favorite, also being the title track. The first times I heard it, it sounded to me like a demure antithesis of John Lennon’s ‘I Am The Walrus’, with all kind of psychedelic lyrics. But Young is in fact warning us about what we’re doing to our environment, accompanied by a piano and a flugelhorn, which delivers a fantastic bridge in the middle of the song. Thom Yorke also covered this song solo during Radiohead‘s concerts in 2003, fading it into ‘Everything in Its Right Place’.

What follows is the first of four piano ballads that are on the album. Somehow they all have in common that they combine often melancholic lyrics with cheerful compositions, featuring a young Nils Lofgren (later on to become a member of Bruce Springsteen‘s E-Street Band) on piano. ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ and ‘Don’t Let It Bring You Down’ are both great songs, as they show us Young  as a fantastic songwriter. The first one has this very recognizable lyrics, about how life’s simple before you fall in love. You’re not extremely happy, but everything’s just OK. Of course does love make you feel great, like you never felt before, but that same love is also the only thing that’s able to completely destroy you. The second one is a little more cryptic, but comes down to this: the world is a joke, I (Neil) know it, you know it, but don’t let this bring you down. Stay hopeful, because another attitude won’t help you any further.

The other two ballads, ‘I Believe in You’ and ‘Birds’, are both love songs (about doubts and goodbyes), which don’t really jump out among the other songs. Fitting in the same category is ‘Oh Lonesome Me’, a cover from the original song by country musician Don Gibson. Young turned this song into a beautiful lament about a dumped man, starting with an harmonica intro and with backing vocals contributed by Stephen Stills.

However, After the Gold Rush would never have become a classic album without the two songs where Young is joined by Crazy Horse, together jamming like on stage. First there’s of course ‘Southern Man’, one of Young’s most famous songs. This is the track that made me listen to the album more than once and in that way this song made me discover the other tracks out there. Don’t search for an intro, because there isn’t one: Young and the band immediately kick off with an upbeat piano and electric guitars. During the song Young condemns the racism in the American South, asking himself when the southern man is going to pay back the black people for treating them like slaves. The other grooves are to be heard on the heavily amplified ‘When You Dance I Can Really Love’. This song also has this upbeat rhythm and a nice bassline, with the band having an awesome jam towards the end, including a nice solo from Young.

The remaining songs are ‘Till the Morning Comes’ and ‘Cripple Creek Ferry’, both about  one and a half minute long. The first one is, according to my interpretation of the lyrics, about a guy who is only waiting till the morning comes. The other one is an easy going little country song, which closes the album perfectly.

In the years following After the Gold Rush, Neil Young would first reach it’s highest commercial peak on his next album Harvest, containing his only number one hit, ‘Heart of Gold’. Then followed the so-called Ditch trilogy, full of songs drenched in depression, and many many more albums till today. Young succeeded to create a different sound on every one of them, making his discography as eclectic as a Captain Beefheart song. But the best starting point to discover this man’s work must be After the Gold Rush. Take your time, give the album an extra chance if necessary, but never, never force yourself to like it.

Top Tracks:
1. After the Gold Rush
2. Southern Man
3. Don’t Let It Bring You Down

“Just cause it starts off slow babe, doesn’t mean it don’t have a heart.”: It Still Moves (My Morning Jacket)

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Year: 2003

Genre: Rock, Alternative Country

Preceded by: At Dawn (2001)

Followed by: Z (2005)

Related to: not available yet



It was a couple of years ago when a friend of mine recommended me this album. I was in the middle of exploring all the music out there that was made in the sixties and seventies and I was a little sceptic about music from a more recent age. But this strange band name kept fascinating me in some way and when I saw the album cover with this giant stuffed bear combined with the album title It Still Moves, I decided that this record deserved to be listened to at least one time. Seventy minutes later, this album had proved that solid rock ‘n roll and beautiful melodies did survive through all those years, I just didn’t search well enough.

It was singer-songwriter and guitarist Jim James who formed this American band in Louisville in 1998. He recruited the rest of the band out of the emo-punk band Winter Death Club, where his cousin Johnny Quaid played guitar, Tom Blankenship was the bass player and J. Glenn was on drums. During those early days, My Morning Jacket principally was an alternative country band. This genre came into existence during the nineties, parallel with the upcoming success of alternative rock. It contained a range of musicians that were playing beyond the borders of traditional country. As such, they drew inspiration from country rock (fusing country with rock ‘n roll) pioneers like Gram Parsons and Steve Earle, with themselves opting for a more lo-fi sound.

As this new alternative country, lo-fi band, My Morning Jacket debuted in 1999 with The Tennessee Fire, which became a hit in Europe. But it was only with their second album, At Dawn, that their popularity started to grow at home. Just like It Still Moves that would follow later on, this album started to show more classic rock influences, featuring more electric guitar sounds than on the previous album. This makes that the sound of the band on It Still Moves always reminds me of Neil Young and Crazy Horse, with its typical screaming classic rock guitars. Another thing that is very characteristic for the album is the use of reverb, continuously producing a lot of echoes throughout the songs.

So there we are, comfortably lying in our couch, headphones on our heads and the album in our hands, counting twelve songs. Seventy minutes you said? Yes, the band takes its time to tell their story, but don’t worry, it’s constructed in a genius order. It all starts with ‘Mahgeetah’, a fantastic opening track, which immediately became my early favorite. Why wait with long, drawn-out vocals and powerful guitar riffs in reverb when you can throw them in right from the start while singing about the love for ‘my guitar’, that’s what Jim James must have thought.

During the next two songs, James takes us on tour with the band and that guitar. First we hike across nightjails and poolhalls on ‘Dancefloors’, escorted by a sweet guitar riff which is towards the end suddenly supported by a great horn section. But all the touring and dancefloors exhausts us and besides, we are starting to miss the things we left behind. So James makes us a campfire, pulls out his acoustic guitar and lets us dream about golden shores. On ‘Golden’, the band returns to the alt-country from the earlier albums for a moment, adopting the style of The Band.

We travel further and we end up at the, as the title already presumes, masterpiece of the album: ‘Master Plan’. It seems like Neil Young and his Crazy Horse have hit the empty highway again, surrounded by tumbleweeds and a haunting sunset. James’ voice is the most important instrument here, telling us the best plans end up really sweet, even if it looks like a routine. The classic rock party continues with ‘One Big Holiday’, the band’s greatest hit and traditional encore of every live show. This song is entirely built around its catchy guitar riff, which almost automatically makes you pick up your air guitar.

Put away this guitar again and drop into your couch again for ‘I Will Sing You Songs’. On ‘Master Plan’, James sings ‘Just cause it starts off slow babe, doesn’t mean it don’t have a heart’. This really applies to this song, with a long instrumental intro and outro. Beautiful fragile song with a riff that somehow always reminds me of Pink Floyd‘s ‘Us and Them’. After this moment of rest, we salute the ‘Easy Morning Rebel’, with again a very ‘Crazy Horsesk’ jam in the end. We ‘Run Thru’, one of Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitar Songs, not to mention the fantastic drumsolo in the middle of the song which lets the song explode right again when you think it’s over.

Personally, I think the following two songs, ‘Rollin’ Back’ and ‘Just One Thing’, are the least of all. But the album has another peak towards the end, with ‘Steam Engine’ and ‘One In The Same’. The first one, just like ‘I Will Sing You Songs’, mainly is about James’ voice and a basic drum beat, this time accompanied by a softly whimpering guitar and fantastic drawn-out vocals in the end. The final track of the album is another personal favorite. The band is gone, and only Jim James and his acoustic guitar remain in the empty hall, trying to fit the pieces of his mind together again. It’s hard to think of a more beautiful way to end an album as with the line “It wasn’t till I woke up that I could hold down a joke or a job or a dream. But then all three are one in the same”.

My Morning Jacket continued to make music after this album, widening their sound with all kind of other influences, ranging from funk through reggae. Some members were replaced by others because they couldn’t endure the heavy touring anymore, but don’t hesitate if you ever get the chance to see them live, as their performances are still breathtaking. But start with this album first.

Top Tracks:
1. Master Plan
2. One In The Same
3. Golden