A letter home (on global warming): Neil Young

Neil Young just let slip news of a record relase, in a paradoxical, almost confusing way, embedding the release in a voice and a raw 1947 technology that has to be heard to be believed (and appreciated). 

It's called A Letter Home, a reference to the remarks below. It's richly appealing and enjoyable, about as good as folk music gets, and Young's best recording in years, though the mid-century technology has a lot of flaws, and crazily he doesn't include any of his own songs in the selection. (He did in performance, as he's been touring across two nations and a continent these past months in similarly naked style — solo.) 

The record's not available on CD, at least not yet, though it is available on vinyl, and iTunes, and (streaming) via the Rare-ish Music channel on YouTube

The streaming in this case turns out to be a richly ironic experience, with no song titles, no way of knowing how long a song will run, and a lo-fi sound worthy of a Woody Guthrie in his prime. It sounds as if it was recorded in a phone booth — which it was — but it's a wondrously warm, rich sound.

Before beginning to sing and play, Young speaks right to us. Let me transcribe such, to make these remarks searchable for the curious: 

Hey Mom. It's me again…my friend Jack [White] has this box, that I can talk to you from. Its still going in here, I can still do this. Listen, Jack and I, well we've discovered a lot of old songs, we've rediscovered the songs I used to sing, you know, at Grosvenor, from the records I used to play?

So I'm going to send some of these to ya:

And he goes on to sing and play some wonderful songs that we all know, such as Early Morning Rain, and a few wonderful songs that almost none of us (myself included) know, and it's a great great experience, but before he begins, he says (in part):

You know how we used to watch the weather all the time? On the TV? And you know how we used to know what was happening up there in Winnipeg? Well I met this this guy named Al and he's the weatherman for the whole planet, if you can imagine that. And he's sometimes not popular. And this is very strange but people can turn on the weatherman. When the weather is going to be bad, they actually turn on the weather man, and they put him down. Things haven't been that great lately, I mean, most of the time, day to day, it's fine? Most of the time the weather is good, but now and again all hell breaks loose, all across the planet? It's like nothing I've ever seen before, and it seems to be happening everywhere. Here and there and everywhere, all over the planet. So even though Al's forecasts are good, he gets in trouble. So I thought I'd tell you about that, and I miss you Mom. I'll be there eventually but not for a while… 

His first song is Phil Ochs' "Changes"…a song that he says inspired his own "Harvest." 

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  1. Kit Stolz

    Note: from reading reviews I learn that Young in fact is speaking to his late mother in the above remarks.

    This odd conceit adds a personal tone to the spoken-word prologue to the record, but doesn’t change the fact that Young is pretty obviously talking about global warming, and all but daring us to “get it.” So Neil, you can stop testing us. Yes, we’re awake and paying attention.

    I think.

    May 6, 2014
  2. Kit Stolz

    Note too that the lo-fi availability of the record has been removed from the web (and the post above).

    Oh well. Young did make available a spectacular rendition of Bert Jansch’s Needle of Death.


    Can’t wait for the album, I confess.

    May 20, 2014