Neil Young’s Letter Home

Neil Young had a new album out. I’d barely heard anything about it when I was in Best Buy looking at the ever-dwindling CD selection, but I grabbed it. It’s called A Letter Home and is a collection of songs from other writers that he finds significant. It includes a couple of classic Gordon Lightfoot songs, Phil Ochs, Bert Jansch, Willie Nelson (two from him), etc. It took me a couple of weeks to listen to it, but I popped it into my car’s CD player on a trip from Dave’s through Ohio. What surprised me first was how lo-fi it was. Turns out it was recorded in a restored Voice-O-Graph booth at Jack White’s Third Man operation in Nashville. This particular machine dates back to 1947 and allows one to record direct-to-vinyl, analog of course. It sounds rough, and it sounds authentic. The performances are minimal (there’s only so much this machine can do) which is perfect for these songs. There are spoken word bits by Neil, as if he’s narrating a letter to his late mother. That just adds to the winsomeness of the whole thing.

My first thought was, if someone like Neil was just starting out, maybe he has a couple of songs of his own but he’s mostly performing covers, this is the demo he’d do. There are a couple of songs that, even if he loves them, he probably would’ve been advised to choose differently. But actually I wouldn’t change a thing. This is Neil not just honoring his heroes, and not just celebrating the past. He’s creating something that a lot of us can relate to, those of us who think that not everything has to be so goddamn digitally perfect in every bit and byte. There’s lots to admire in that.

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About songdogmi

I'm a longhaired almost-hippie stuck in the inner suburbs of a major rust-belt metropolis who's thoughtful, creative, and kind of geeky. In exchange for a paycheck I run around in a cubicle maze most days. When I escape, I play music, hang out in coffee houses, dink around on the computer, take naps, and think I should be off in the woods somewhere. Every once in a while I get in my car and drive far, far away, though I've always come back so far.
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4 Responses to Neil Young’s Letter Home

  1. changeling72 says:

    If I actually sat and listened to CDs I would probably buy it.

  2. kishenehn says:

    Neil Young is one of the few artists I like enough that I’d buy almost any recording that he made, regardless. I’ll have to go looking for this one …

    • songdogmi says:

      I haven’t bought everything of his; do have a lot of the early ones (which have most of the big hits), but I’m familiar with most of the rest of his stuff. He’s bounced around a lot, which is admirable — unlike some artists that are still doing what they’ve always done. Even the failures are interesting (and arguably aren’t failures, really).

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