Friday, September 9, 2016


Well, finally, the so-called "ditch" trilogy arrives on vinyl; at least affordably, it came out in 2014 in an exclusive, wallet-busting box, for those who could no longer wait. It's called the ditch trilogy after the comment Young made in the liner notes to the Decade album, referring to his massive 1972 hit Heart of Gold, which (I'm paraphrasing here) put him in the middle of the road, but he decided it would be more interesting travelling in the ditch. The next three albums that arrived were Times Fades Away, On The Beach and Tonight's The Night, not exactly fan-friendly acoustic albums like Harvest.

The one that fans have really been screaming for, for years, has been Times Fades Away. It's been out-of-print all that time, and never available on CD. probably the most important rock star album that was missing in action. Word was that Young was unwilling to reissue because of the way it was recorded, live cuts, direct-to-disc, without master tapes to remix. That's one possibility anyway, most of Young's statements on such matters are suspect, and tend to change over the years. He's also said it has too many bad memories. One thing's for sure, the demand for this particular album has been mighty from the very vocal but small group of fans, while the vast majority of Harvest listeners haven't heard it and probably wouldn't much like it.

However, Time Fades Away is no Trans, no Greendale, no flaky concept with limited results. It's a tough but mighty listen, Young at his most challenging and rewarding, in a purple patch for his talent. While on tour for Harvest (this is the ditch part), instead of feeding the audience a soft-rock show, he put together a rowdy group to debut a whole batch of material that was the antithesis of Heart of Gold. Plucked from the live shows are seven cuts played with just the right amount of sloppiness, on the edge of collapse, held together with instinct and force of will. (An eighth, Love In Mind, is a solo piano cut from 1971.) They are unlike anything else from his vast songbook. Don't Be Denied is the major career cut here, a straight autobiography of his parents' separation, his move to Winnipeg, his salvation through guitar. Time Fades Away clunks along like a Southern saloon band. Last Dance could have been on a horror film soundtrack. In between, Young fumbles at the piano to plunk out the achingly beautiful Journey Through The Past and The Bridge. It's an album you need to understand how Young got so difficult, at least to record companies. He went into it a superstar, and came out a cult artist at best.

Much of what made that tour so chaotic was the OD death of his Crazy Horse comrade Danny Whitten. Still reeling, Young reconvened some of his usual musicians, and added Nils Lofgren in Whitten's place, calling them the Santa Monica Flyers. The edginess continued for these sessions, the acclaimed Tonight's The Night album, with its dark drug references and late-night loaded feel the fall-out from Whitten's, and roadie Bruce Berry's similar fate. Although recorded in '73, Young chose to hold it back until 1975 because of the intensity.

Between those came On The Beach, a little easier to handle, but still with its bleak moments, and certainly full of tremendous songs. While the catchy Walk On lightens the load, other lengthy, moody acoustic numbers take us down a more contemplative path, looking at some of downs in his life, and rising above them. Those included his troubled marriage to actress Carrie Snodgrass (Motion Pictures), and his even more troubled partnership with CSNY. Young famously quotes manager Elliot Roberts in Ambulance Blues, about the group: "You're all just pissing in the wind." The light-hearted, see ya later of Walk On then becomes obvious, as that's just what Young decided to do.

Everybody talks about Harvest, After the Goldrush, Rust Never Sleeps, but this is what I love best. These are albums where Young is out on a limb, and he's not even sure he likes the music sometimes. Not being personally attached, I have no such qualms.

No comments:

Post a Comment