The White Falcon's split pickup might have been just a gimmick from the early days of stereo, but the way Neil Young uses it on Alabama is remarkable. His muted picking brings stabbing notes first from one speaker, then the other, as through we were hearing not one but two guitarists, playing with an unnatural empathy. The electric guitar has seldom sounded so menacing, and Young's growling rhythm and piercing lead notes are tracked perfectly by Kenny Buttrey's bare-bones drumming. The build to the chorus is beautifully judged, and when Young and his celebrity backing singers let rip, there's an almost physical sense of release.Neil Young's Harvest is one of those strange albums that has achieved lasting success without ever winning the full approval of rock critics or hardcore fans. Even Young himself has been equivocal, describing it in one breath and his "finest" album, dismissing in the next as an NOR aberration. Here, Sam Inglis explores the circumstances of the album's creation and asks who got it right: The critics, or the millions who have bought Harvest in the 30 years since its release?33 1/3 is a new series of short books about critically acclaimed and much-loved albums of the last 40 years. Focusing on one album rather than an artist's entire output, the books dispense with the standard biographical background that fans know already, and cut to the heart of the music on each album. The authors provide fresh, original perspectives - often through their access to and relationships with the key figures involved in the recording of these albums. By turns obsessive, passionate, creative, and informed, the books in this series demonstrate many different ways of writing about music.More
Narrator Jay Snyder provides an authoritative performance of this examination of Neil Young's album Harvest, whose equivocal reception from critics belied its popularity. Young, who was still dealing with his insecurity about his voice and his desire to mix musical genres together, produced an album that was a commercial success but alienated hardcore fans. Harvest was dismissed as country & western music for people who dislike country & western, and even more damningly, Neil Young for people who don't like Neil Young. Snyder's straightforward and thoughtful narration maintains writer Sam Inglis' evenhanded tone as he explores Harvest's creation and legacy, as well as its role in Young's ouvre.
"A study that's as much about Neil Young's 1972 LP as it is about the notion of whether records embraced by casual listeners are necessarily "classic" or representative of their makers. Journeying through Young's past and outlining Nashville's country traditions, Sam Inglis outlines the album's genesis and formation while considering whether "Harvest" is as mainstream as it appears. The overarching themes of finesse, product and art are pertinent to a society fixated on TV shows such as "American Idol." (The Chicago Tribune)
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Just a long record review.
- G. L. Jones
Lots of Positives - some problems
First of all, I love the 33 1/3 series. I'm listening to them all and I hope they make 100 more. The first thing to realize is that each book has a different writer and a different narrator, so you never know what you're going to get. Some (Dylan, Stevie, Costello) are drop dead brilliant. Others (Pet Sounds) not so much, but there's not one that I wouldn't buy again and from which I haven't gleaned very valuable information.
I would give Harvest 5 stars except for two things: the narration and several really annoying bits of dumb political commentary from the author. The narrator speaks clearly, so you can understand the text - that's all it takes for me to prefer audiobook since I have no time to read, but some narrators (e.g., Costello) enhance the text greatly. This guy on Harvest sounds like he's reading it syllable by syllable, with little comprehension, to a 6-year old. It's laughably bad, but understandable at least.
As for the book itself, it does an excellent job of describing the album and reviewing Young's career and discography. My only complaint is the smug and stupid political commentary. He's trying to say that Young's songs about southern racism are silly, out-dated hippie idealism and that songwriters have no business weighing in on such things. And 33 1/3 writers do? In his defense, the book was released in '08, probably written in '07, and I'm reviewing the review in '14, after the South jumped on the SCOTUS's striking down of the Voting Rights Act to obstruct minority voting and after it's become so embarrassingly obvious that the reactionary South (and Plain States) are still living in the Dark Ages. Some things about Young are dated, but his appraisal of Alabama was prophetic. It's more than 40 years later and all you have to do is turn on the news to see that the racism of the red South is as abominable and disgraceful as it ever was. So after casting off Alabama as silly hippie fantasies about racism, he glosses over Ohio. This song hit the airwaves less than a month after the Kent State massacre - America's Tiananmen Square. That it was the most timely and powerful reaction of music to politics since The Marriage of Figaro is undeniable.
I will give the author some credit for realizing that Southern Man and Alabama are not the same song. Musically there's more difference between those two than there is among every song in the Country & Western canon.
Still, I find the authors John Roberts-esque "there is no more racism" insinuations to be deeply offensive and inappropriate in this type of book especially in light of the fact that all American music, very much including Country music, owes its very existence to African-American musical innovations.
- A. K. Moore