The more the merrier as far as Neil Young is concerned
There’s an age old showbiz axiom that suggests it’s always best to leave the crowd wanting more. Suffice it to say that Neil Young’s never abided by that advice.
He’s released an album a year for the past four years, beginning with A Letter Home and Storytone in 2014, and continuing through The Monsanto Years (2015), Peace Trail (2016) and The Visitor (2017). That doesn’t include live offerings (2016’s Earth), soundtracks (Paradox, released earlier this year), archival issues (Roxy: Tonight’s the Night, released for Record Store Day this past April and Hitchhiker from the year before) or the recent reissues encompassing his first twelve solo albums.
Suffice it to say that to be a true Young fan it takes deep pockets and an overabundance of enthusiasm.
That’s cool of course. With his chameleon-like tendency to shift direction at will, not to mention a prolific prowess that’s exceptional by any measure, Young’s entitled to follow his muse whenever and wherever he likes. Like it or not, he’s clearly dedicated to the cause, with an undeterred proficiency that’s remarkable to say the least.
Indeed, few other artists even come close. Jim Lauderdale is the only one who comes to mind, given his tendency to release multiple albums in a single year, sometimes as many as three releases at the same time. The Grateful Dead as well, but their offerings are of course wholly historical in nature.
So does a prodigious output equal over exposure? Does it place too much of a burden even on Young’s most fervent fans who try to keep up? Is it best to immerse one’s self in one release before venturing on to another?
In truth, it’s hard to say. Clearly Young has become a one man well-oiled machine, a human conveyor belt who shows no sign of slowing down or getting deterred by exhaustion. Ever the over achiever — spurred along no doubt by a young (pardon the pun) band of co-conspirators, Promise of the Real — Young, at age 73, is either extraordinarily motivated or simply trying to fulfil his remaining ambitions (and perhaps fill his coffers) while he still has the energy and enthusiasm to do so. An artist who’s well aware of the legacy he’ll leave, he considers his archives precious property.
That’s a quality that ought to be respected, and while his work can be challenging, Songs for Judy should comfort those who savor the seminal Young, the period when he played the role of a forlorn folkie and was able and content to assuage a crowd simply by performing solo on guitar and piano while revisiting his standards. Consequently, this is the live album every Young (and old) fan will need, a collection of essential songs (“Heart of Gold,” “Mr. Soul,” “Harvest,” “After the Gold Rush, “Tell Me Why,” “Sugar Mountain” etc.), a few obscurities (“White Line,” “Give Me Strength,” “Too Far Gone”) and those tracks that fall in-between (“The Old Laughing Lady,” “Campaigner,” “Here We Are in the Years”) performed simply and the way they were originally recorded, on the scratchy vinyl that became many a baby boomers’ essential heirlooms.
Not to be presumptuous, but it’s probably fair to say we speak for Judy — and every other Young fan and fanatic — when we say Songs for Judy can, in fact, be considered a welcome treat from the archives.