Time Fades Away – Neil Young

Classic Rock

In Neil Young’s entire massive library of music there may be no album with more history and significance behind it than 1973’s Time Fades Away; an album that many people, including some of Young’s fans, may have never even heard of. What we have here is a sometimes dark, always sincere album recorded during a time of great turmoil for Neil Young. It is an album that is hard to even analyze sometimes given the disparity of feelings about the record between Neil and his audience. Do you want to talk about an obscure piece of rock n’ roll history? Let’s talk Time Fades Away.

Time Fades Away was Neil Young’s first ever live album that was recorded during his massive 1973 tour that included somewhere in excess of 60 shows over three months.  The Stray Gators served as his backup during this tour in place of Crazy Horse. The album is one of the three albums that are included in Neil’s “ditch trilogy” which also includes Tonight’s The Night and On The Beach and is considered, in addition to the other two, one of the most significant Neil Young albums ever made.

While the album was originally released in 1973 it was never reissued onto CD due to Neil’s feelings towards in and probably more importantly towards the unpleasant experience of that 1973 tour. This was the very same tour that followed the death of Crazy Horse guitarist and Neil’s friend Danny Whitten. He ended up overdosing on valium the very night after Neil fired him from the tour due to his instability. God only knows how deeply that affected Neil on this incredibly stressful tour.

In addition to the passing of Danny there was turmoil among the band members during the tour that resulted from money disputes and many other various disagreements and incidents. The result of this overwhelming negative experience for Neil was the shunning of Time Fades Away; I believe he even went as far as to call it his worst album ever at some point. In contrast to Neil’s feelings towards the album I can tell you that the critics and more importantly his die-hard fans cherish it as one of the best and most overlooked Neil Young albums of all time.

Time Fades Away is a truly classic rock n’ roll album. Through the eight songs on the album we get a little of every style of Neil Young. From the upbeat rockabilly swing of Time Fades Away to the classic hard rock sound of Last Dance this is an awesome showcase of original Neil Young live tracks. Love In Mind is a highlight here and features Neil solo on piano. The song is short, intimate and you can just picture Neil sitting up on the stage playing piano under the spotlight. Don’t Be Denied is a steel guitar laced country rock jam that tells a short story of Neil’s youth to his success as a musician and the business of it all. “Well, all that glitters isn’t gold, I know you’ve heard that story told, and I’m a pauper in a naked disguise, a millionaire through a business man’s eyes, oh friend of mine, don’t be denied.”

There may be only eight songs on this album but there is no bullshit here. Each and every song is a gem. There exists way too much history and lore behind this album to talk about in a few short paragraphs but I encourage all who are interested to go read about it and more importantly to listen to it! The good news for all of us is that while this album may have fallen into the abyss for a period of time it has since been released in digital format for all to enjoy. Time Fades Away is a highly regarded anomaly among Neil Young fans and critics. While Neil himself may have mixed feelings about the album and tour I hope that he can find solace in the fact that Time Fades Away is still, to this day, bringing a lot of joy and entertainment to his fans all over the world.

See you next week.

DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar

Rap

Damn… I could probably end my review right there. I actually thought about doing that. The fact is that this album is just too damn good to not write about. What we have here is one of the best rap albums of our time. It’s crazy that I can say that after a mere five days post-release. The question remains, can we really expect anything less from Kendrick Lamar nowadays?

Just like his past releases Kendrick conveys many powerful messages throughout this record. Through the 14 tracks on the album Kendrick touches on concepts including self-respect, love, bigotry, religion, faith, politics, power, evil, weakness and the list goes on. As per usual he does so in an incredibly impactful way. Many songs on this album are more profound than they appear on the surface.

There is also a ton of subtext here. Already the internet is crawling with people hypostasizing and theorizing over hidden meanings and messages. There was even a crazy popular theory involving Kendrick, Jesus, and the surprise release of a second album on Easter Sunday. Yea…

The production on this album is second to none. The beats are rich and original while still maintaining a raw and authentic sound. It’s impossible not to get hyped up when listing to the hard and aggressive (but yet so humbling!) track HUMBLE.; it’s hard to resist the laid-back and tranquil rhythm to YAH.; and if the euphoric beat for LOVE. doesn’t put you in a good place I don’t know what will. The quality of DAMN.’s production is a credit to its long list of talent on that end. The album boasts a robust production crew including Top Dawg, The Alchemist, 9th Wonder, Mike Will Made It, the mysterious Bēkon and many more. The album is absolutely littered with talent none more important than Kendrick himself.

The first track BLOOD. starts off with a skit featuring Kendrick narrating his own death at the hands of a blind women he is trying to assist. The skit is laced with a spaghetti western-esque melody and successfully sets the tone for the album while introducing some core themes. The track and its subsequent song DNA. both feature audio clips from Fox News anchors (including Geraldo Rivera) bluntly criticizing some of Kendrick Lamar’s past lyrics which targeted police brutality towards African Americans. The song DNA. is a strong rebuttal to these personal attacks. In it Kendrick reaffirms who he is, where he comes from, and scorns those who would criticize him, especially those from outside his community.

In ELEMENT. Kendrick highlights the core theme of the album: Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper in the game. It’s not as much a boastful song as it is an affirmation of his dedication to rap. Lyrics include “I’m willin’ to die for this shit, I done cried for this shit, might take a life for this shit, put the Bible down and go eye for an eye for this shit.” This is one of my favorite songs on the album both lyrically and melodically and the chorus is absolutely amazing.

In PRIDE. Kendrick touches on his own imperfections and the relationship between his overwhelming success and his moral compass. “See, in a perfect world, I’ll choose faith over riches, I’ll choose work over bitches, I’ll make schools out of prison, I’ll take all the religions and put ’em all in one service, Just to tell ’em we ain’t shit, but he’s been perfect, world.”

HUMBLE. was everyone’s first glimpse of this album and a mighty one at that. Kendrick takes shots at some of his competition and further reaffirms his place at the table. Bitch sit down, be humble! LUST. is another one of my favorites here. In it Kendrick touches on the day to day life of a famous rapper. It’s filled with lustful desires, anxiety, and repetition. The song is deep, introspective, engaging and the melody is enticing.

In XXX. Kendrick struggles with his own integrity along with that of America’s. The song compares Kendrick’s own principles to America’s as a whole. The lyrics on this track are truly some of the best on the record. The song also features the rock group U2 to many peoples initial surprise but this makes a lot of sense given the politically charged nature of the song and U2’s history of highlighting social themes in their own music.

The last song I would like to discuss is the finale of the album DUCKWORTH. Man this song is crazy. This song tells the real life story of how Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith (the chief exec of TDE) almost killed Kendrick’s own father years before they would ever meet. The story highlights how one coincidental mistake almost changed history and would have prevented TDE from forming and Kendrick from ever rapping. I love how Kendrick wraps this album up through the telling of such an incredible story.

I could keep writing about this album if I wanted to. Seriously, I could write about every damn song. The only reason I won’t is because I have to go listen to the album again. Trust me when I say that if you are a fan of rap in any shape or form this album will blow you away. It’s really just the level of quality we have come to expect from Kendrick Lamar. I already can’t wait to see what comes next.

See you next week.

 

 

Pure Comedy – Father John Misty

Indie Folk

Last week Father John Misty released his newest LP entitled Pure Comedy. Father John Misty fans (including most of my friends and I) have been eagerly waiting for this release since 2015’s I Love You, Honeybear. It should be noted that while I am eager to write about this album this week I have only listened to it a few times at this point. While the album is still settling in for me I have to say that I really like it so far. FJM continues to produce great work.

My initial impression is that this album as a whole is very much a continuation of the style we saw in the song Bored in the USA (track 9 of I Love You, Honeybear) almost as if that song was a primer for this album. We see a continuation of the slower pace ballads accompanied by piano, guitar, Tillman’s outstanding vocals and cynical and satirical personality. It’s this persona that FJM fans have watched develop over the past years that sets his music apart. It may sound drab but honestly it’s entertaining as hell.

This is FJM’s biggest project yet racking in at 13 songs and 1hr and 14min. The pace of this album is quite a bit slower than his past releases and, as my cousin pointed out, some of the songs tend to blend together upon first listen. This being said, don’t leave with the impression that the songs are not varied or unique, it’s just that there is an overall tempo to this album that holds firm. The one exception to this would be the track Total Entertainment Forever which is more upbeat.

The album opens with the self-titled Pure Comedy and this song is a great intro to the album. The song exemplifies FJM’s persona perfectly by delivering a twisted view of humanity over piano and drums. Total Entertainment Forever is next and is the very song that was the subject of scrutiny after FJM’s appearance on SNL. The song opens with the controversial lyrics “bedding Taylor Swift every night inside the Oculus Rift, after mister and the missus finish dinner and the dishes” of course referring to having virtual sex with Taylor Swift using the virtual reality platform Oculus Rift. This song is upbeat, features great instrumentals including saxophone and is currently my favorite song off the album.

One song that I did not hear until release was A Bigger Paper Bag. This song has been growing on me and is creeping towards the top of the ranks for my favorite songs off the album. Ballad of a Dying Man is maybe the most interesting song here. This song tells the story of an old dying man that remains analytical and critical of people up until his very last breath. We also have Leaving LA which is a mammoth thirteen minute and twelve second song that critiques “LA hipsters and their bullshit bands” (lyrics changed from Pitchfork bands on the album release for some reason) among many other entertaining points.

I feel that this FJM album was worth the wait. Sure the album is a bit different than his prior releases (mainly in the consistent downtempo pace and critical tone) but I really feel that through his lyrics and music Tillman is giving us his most honest FJM yet. How do I think this album stacks up against his other releases? Ask me in a few months and I’ll tell you. Is this album worth your time? Yes it is.

See you next week.

The Phosphorescent Blues – Punch Brothers

Progressive Bluegrass

This week I would like to highlight one of the most recent additions to my list of favorite albums. This band also happens to include of my most respected musicians of all time Chris Thile. The Phosphorescent Blues by Punch Brothers is an amazing achievement in the modern Progressive Bluegrass scene and should not be overlooked. Seriously, I am not exaggerating.

I would assume that most people reading this right now are thinking what the hell is progressive bluegrass? Well, the answer is that there is no real set-in-stone definition. The best way to describe progressive bluegrass is as a modern subgroup or subgenre of traditional bluegrass music that has the liberty of adding instruments and incorporating styles that traditional bluegrass would not. Please don’t be intimidated by the bluegrass designation; many people who are fans of folk or rock music will find this music easy to approach.

Most of you who are familiar with the traditional bluegrass format would expect to see an acoustic banjo, mandolin, guitar, fiddle (violin), upright bass, and sometimes a dobro. What is interesting about modern variations of bluegrass music is that you will often hear electric instruments, drums, and incorporated style elements of folk and rock music. This allows the musicians a little more creative freedom and flexibility. In addition to Punch Brothers you may already know some other progressive bluegrass groups such as Greensky Bluegrass, Trampled by Turtles, and Yonder Mountain Sting Band to name a few.

Now that the lecture is over I will try and get back on topic! The Phosphorescent Blues is an admirably complex and beautiful addition to the modern bluegrass catalog. It is easy to hear that each musician in Punch Brothers is a master of their respective instruments. This is certainly true of Chris Thile who is known as one of the best (many feel the best) mandolin players alive (see Chris Thile Plays Bach: Sonata No, 1 in G Minor on Youtube). As an amateur mandolin player I not only have a tremendous amount of respect for his approach to the mandolin but also his success in bringing notoriety to the instrument in modern times. Chris also plays the part of lead vocals and does so very well.

I feel like I have already said a lot so I will avoid a track-by-track here. This being said I encourage you to give this album a shot. As I mentioned, this album is one of my current favorites and may become one of yours as well. Some of my favorite tracks include: My Oh My, Julep, Magnet, Little Lights, and the ten minute and twenty three second opener Familiarity. I should also note that the video that I posted for My Oh My (my favorite song off the album) is not the record version but instead the version with Chris Thile from The Late Show. I feel that it is an excellent live rendition. I hope you enjoy it.

See you next week.