Welcome to the musical meandering insights of Aaron Joy, aka the Joyful Gadfly! Musician, podcaster, writer, historian ... here you'll find 600 reviews of CDs & DVDs of rock & metal in all its variations, mainstream & indie. What they all share is that the album is unique in some way. Please share these reviews or link to them if you like what you read. Reviews are no longer being posted here but feel free to e-mail Aaron & post comments. (Formerly the Roman Midnight Music Blog)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Neil Young ~ Unplugged (live)


(Click on heading to visit official website.)
Style: folk-rock
Label: Reprise
Year: 1993
Home: California

Members: Neil Young ~ guitar/harmonica/piano/pump organ/vocals
Nils Lofgren ~ guitar/autoharp/accordion/b. vocals
Ben Keith ~ dobro
Spooner Oldham ~ piano/pump organ
Tim Drummond ~ bass
Oscar Butterworth ~ drums
Astrid Young, Nicolette Larson ~ b. vocals

Additional: Larry Cragg ~ broom


NY's Unplugged live recording from the MTV show may not be an explicitly rock album, compared to some of NY's albums, recalling more his folksy-country side, but through an array of different styles over the decades NY has done his share of rocking out, let alone inspiring countless rock bands with the most prominent being Pearl Jam. This was the first NY album I ever bought, soon after it came out. I knew NY's greatest hits, a friend had played & explained to me the nuances of Tonight's The Night, but in terms of building up my own NY collection I didn't know where to start with him. He's gone through so many musical styles & backing groups, often in the same year, with some big hits & some big misses, & in the pre-internet age there was no allmusic.com to get advice from on what would make the perfect intro. I do remember when he was playing with Pearl Jam, but I was feeling more tuned into his acoustic folk side than the chaotic careening ragged electric guitar side. The glory of NY's appearance on MTV's Unplugged, showing the unplugged format at its magical best in my ears & the reason it became my first NY album, though I hadn't watched the episode, was that it collects many of the hits from his different musical faces & blends them together seemlessly with a new personality alongside some obscure tunes. It's not so much a greatest hits collection as a bit of a retrospective showing different sides of NY from his point of view. While NY might be known to many for his wild careless guitar playing, his real magic has always been for me his lyrics. I've also always liked his ragged folksy voice. That's the focus here, no doubt. It's not the guitar playing or the crazy endless solos he's known for taking. It's just the words & the emotion he puts behind them. Let me just say that I used to like learning to play & sing so many of the songs on this album on my acoustic guitar. I wanted to feel the words of "Pocahontas," "The Needle & The Damage Done" & even "Transformer Man", doing the backing vocals myself, roll over my tongue. For me, NY reaches the same heights as Dylan, Brian Wilson & Jim Steinman. "The Old Laughing Lady" & so many others might just show NY as one of the most depressing lyricists ever ... next to Lou Reed ... yet intensely personal at the same time. Oh, but how wonderful & rich those sad emotions are! The slimmed down instrumentation Unplugged also excited me, particularly the use of a broom as a percussion instrument in "Harvest Moon". It's moody & dark as much as any hard rock, yet less pretentious than I felt so much folk music suffered from in its quest to be seen as more pure. MTV's Unplugged might have been gimmicky & super trendy, the fad coming to shine a poor light on the original idea, while it had its shares of stumbles & some artists might have been unsuited for the format, but when it shone bright the glaring light was amazing. Of the over 100 episodes highlights worth watching over & over that come to mind include: Eric Clapton, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, 10,000 Maniacs, Kiss, Alice In Chains, Rod Stewart, The Eagles, Stone Temple Pilots, Page/Plant & obviously NY, who might have the most laidback relaxing output of all of them. Though, it's interesting to note that some critics have called it too relaxing & not ragged enough. But, if anything over his career NY is not predictable & he stays true to form here turning in something new. Yes, a couple songs were originally acoustically rendered & thus don't get a reinterpretation here, but that's what makes this enjoyable for me. You get some songs in their original format, even if it breaks the rule of thumb of what the show is supposed to be about, beside songs reinvented ... & they all sound like the come off the same album, blending into a new beast. Of note, Unplugged contains the previously unreleased song "Stringman" written in 1976, while four songs appear on the show but not on the album (i.e. "Dreamin' Man", "Sample & Hold", "War of Man", "Winterlong"). While, however powerful the result is, it's actually the second recording of the show. NY was not happy with the performances of anyone in the band & did the show over again. It would be interesting to hear the first take.


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