Neil Young & The International Harvesters – A Treasure (Reprise)

This is the latest instalment in Neil Young’s “Archives Performance Series”. Included here are 12 live tracks recorded with The International Harvesters during 1984 & 85. At this point in his career Neil was persona non grata at his record label, Geffen, who were in the process of suing him for not sounding like Neil Young. He had just released to rather unconventional albums, the electronically altered Trans and rockabilly based  Everybody’s Rockin’. In response to Geffen’s charges, Neil decided to make a hard country album…just what they didn’t want to hear. The result was 1985’s Old Ways, recorded in Nashville with the cream of that city’s players, who Neil dubbed The International Harvesters. Waylon and Willie were along to give it that outlaw vibe.

Most Neil Young fans ignored Old Ways in droves, but I’ve always had a soft spot for, what turned out to be, an excellent batch of songs that would have sounded at home on either Harvest or Comes A Time. In fact, Neil and The Harvesters played selections from both albums when they hit the road.

What we have here is 12 individual performances, rather than one concert appearance. The tracks are arranged chronologically beginning with Amber Jean, a previously unreleased song recorded on September 20, 1984 for the Nashville Now TV programme and written for Neil’s young daughter. Then Neil makes his statement of purpose with Are You Ready For The Country, where fiddle player Rufus Thibodeaux lets loose with one of his many exhilarating solos.

Other previously unreleased songs include Soul Of A Woman, Nothing Is Perfect, Grey Riders and, my favourite, Let Your Fingers Do The Walking, Neil’s country-tinged take on phone sex.  In it he sings, “I’m a disconnected number and you’re a private line”, after commenting on his ex who “gave good phone”.

There are a few songs that wound  up on Old WaysBound For Glory doesn’t quite carry the emotional weight as the studio version possibly because it lacks Waylon Jennings’ co-vocal and more probably because ace country pianist Hargus “Pig” Robbins is absent from the live version. Fortunately Hargus is heard on this collection’s final three tracks and especially enhances Nothing Is Perfect and Grey Riders.

There is also a version of Flying On The Ground Is Wrong, a song originally recorded by The Buffalo Springfield and sung by Richie Furay. It’s nice to hear Neil singing his song, but the arrangement here is a bit slow and the band seems to be dragging.

But that is one of the few low points. Otherwise there is plenty of good old fashion pickin’ and grinnin’ with Neil, Ben Keith, who plays pedal steel, and the rest of this crack band sounding like they’re having a good ol’ time. Yee-ha!!!

Marty Duda

Click here to listen to Let Your Fingers Do The Walking from A Treasure