Friday, 6 May 2016

"Official Release Series Discs 1-4" by NEIL YOUNG (2012 Reprise Reissue Box Set Containing The 4 x 2009 HDCD Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"…Show You The Way To Go…"

This Box Set contains the album "After The Gold Rush" released in 1970

What we have here is a reissue. UK and Europe released 11 June 2012 - "Official Release Series Disc 1-4" by NEIL YOUNG is a 4CD set on Reprise 9362-494975 (Barcode 093624949756) which bundles together the four August 2009 individual releases into a simple card slipcase (each is discussed in detail below). As such - this neatly bundled foursome represents seriously great value for money - both musically and on the old lugs. So what's on offer and what's the muss?

Over the last two decades in particular - Neil Young fans have had their reissue patience sorely tested by their moody overlord. He has famously resisted the remastered reissue of his huge catalogue on CD because of what he feels is the format's less than stellar representation of analogue tapes' 'original sound'. But you have to say right from the audio start of these August 2009 CD reissues/remasters - the wait for these first quartet of solo albums - "Neil Young", "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere", "After The Gold Rush" and "Harvest" - has absolutely been worth the endless delays and press hissy fits. What a magnificent job his transfer teams have done here... 

JOHN NOWLAND carried out the Audio Tape Restoration and Analog-To-HDCD Digital Transfer of the Original Master Tapes (24-Bit 176 KHZ) with TIM MULLIGAN taking care of the Editing and Mastering. These remasters are not bombastically loud - trebled up to the nines for the sake of it - they're subtle - the music is just there in your speakers to a point where everything seems new and up for grabs again. Fans will love it and feel like they're revisited long cherished old friends - while newcomers will now understand what all the 5-star fuss is about. Now to the details - here are the Loners, Trips to Tulsa and Cinnamon Maids in need of a Man...

Disc 1 "Neil Young" (36:25 minutes):
1. The Emperor Of Wyoming
2. The Loner
3. If I Could Have Her Tonight
4. I've Been Waiting For You
5. The Old Laughing Lady
6. String Quartet From Whiskey Boot Hill
7. Here We Are In The Years
8. What Did You Do To My Life?
9. I've Loved Her So Long
10. The Last Trip To Tulsa

Written at the tender age of 23 - his debut has been eclipsed by the more illustrious "Gold Rush" and "Harvest" - but real fans will want to start here. While I can live without the countrified "Emperor Of Wyoming" - I still find "The Loner" astonishing in the way that the first Zeppelin album is - powerful, punchy and still rocking today. It's kind of shocking that even though Reprise coupled it with "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" as it's B-side - it failed as a UK 7" single on Reprise RS 23045 in September 1969. I love the Jack Nitzsche arrangements on the magical "The Old Laughing Lady" with Ry Cooder on Guitar and the wonderful singer Merry Clayton on Backing Vocals. The channel separation is harsh (the way it was recorded) but the clarity is fabulous. "What Did You Do To My Life" sounds like a top Buffalo Springfield outtake from their patchy 3rd album while the acoustic guitars on the epic "The Last Trip To Tulsa" are so clear - as is his warbling treated vocals - frail and aching. What I love about this remaster is that its somehow brought the album alive - and now begs rediscovery...

Disc 2 "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" (40:47 minutes):
1. Cinnamon Girl
2. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
3. Round & Round (It Won't Be Long)
4. Down By The River
5. The Losing End (When You're On) [Side 2]
6. Running Dry (Requiem For The Rockets)
7. Cowgirl In The Sand

His 2nd solo album after Buffalo Springfield - "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" was released in May 1969 on Reprise Records RS 6349 in the USA and July 1969 in the UK on Reprise RSLP 6349. This 2009 'Neil Young Archives - Original Release Series' CD Remaster on Reprise 9362-49790-3 (Barcode 093624979036) is Disc 2 of 4 and carries the HDCD code on the label and rear inlay (High Density Compact Disc). The inlay reproduces photos of Danny Whitten (Guitar), Billy Talbot (Bass) with Ralph Molina (on Drums) and David Briggs (Engineer and Producer) - but there are no lyrics.

Niggles - the big disappointment is the complete lack of musical extras or even any new info in the booklet - and in the case of this album in particular the omissions are going to be a sore point for fans who've waited decades for these releases. While some rarities have turned up on the 2009 mega box set "The Archives Vol.1 1963-1972" - some tracks are still missing. "Down By The River" was edited for single release in the UK in August 1970 on RS 23462 with an alternate take of "Cinnamon Girl" on the B-side. To my knowledge neither is available in remastered sound anywhere. Also - "Oh Lonesome Me" was extended for the US 7" and it's B-side - an alternate mix of "I've Been Waiting For You" is again a no-show. All of them would have made for ideal extras material and it's infuriating that they're not on here. Still - at mid price - this remaster of "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" is great value for money and with this hugely upgraded sound - makes you focus on the music as is and not anything else.

The sound is especially good on the big rocking tracks like "Down By The River" and the near 10-minute "Cowgirl In The Sand" - while the clarity is just beautiful on Richie Furay's "Round And Round (It Won't Be Long)" - Robin Lane's duet vocals being particularly lovely. Bobby Notkoff's violin on "Running Dry" is very clear - and as the band loosely ramshackles its way into the song - it sounds like they're in your living room - miked up and live - fabulous stuff. On to album three...

Disc 3 "After The Gold Rush" (35:03 minutes):
1. Tell Me Why
2. After The Gold Rush
3. Only Love Can Break Your Heart
4. Southern Man
5. Till The Morning Comes
6. Oh Lonesome Me
7. Don't Let It Bring You Down
8. Birds
9. When You Dance, I Can Really Love
10. I Believe In You
11. Cripple Creek

"After The Gold Rush" was released in September 1970 on Reprise Records MS 6383 in the USA and Reprise RSLP 6383 in the UK (it went to Number 8 in the USA and Number 7 in the UK). This 2009 'Neil Young Archives - Original Release Series' remaster on Reprise 9362-49790-1 (Barcode 093624979012) is Disc 3 of 4 (HDCD details as above).

Again so many audio highlights - the meaty guitars of "Southern Man" and the harmonica and rhythm section on the slyly lovely cover of Don Gibson's "Oh Lonesome Me". But then there's a triple whammy of audio brilliance on "Don't Let It Bring You Down", the beautiful "Birds" (lyrics above) and the rocking "When You Dance, I Can Really Love". Each is so beautifully done but in different ways. There's now a lovely intimacy on "Tell Me Why" and "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" too. Sweet as...and leading up to...

Disc 4 "Harvest" (37:47 minutes):
1. Out On The Weekend
2. Harvest
3. A Man Needs A Maid
4. A Heart Of Gold
5. Are You Ready For The Country?
6. Old Man
7. There's A World
8. Alabama
9. The Needle And The Damage Done
10. Words (Between The Lines Of Age)

His 4th solo (and some feel his best) "Harvest" was released in February 1972 on Reprise Records MS 2032 in the USA and K 54005 in the UK (it went to Number 1 in both countries and many others around the world). This 2009 'Neil Young Archives - Original Release Series' on Reprise 9362-49789-9 (Barcode 093624978992) is Disc 4 of 4 (HDCD details as above).

From the second that the drums, acoustic guitar and low harmonica kick in with the opener "Out On The Weekend" - the audio can only be described as beautiful. The shuffle of "Harvest" now boats the same clarity - but things really go into the fidelity stratosphere with the strings on "A Man Needs A Maid" (The London Symphony Orchestra arranged by Jack Nitzsche) - wow! David Crosby and Graham Nash puts in harmony vocals on "Are You Ready For The Country" while James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt do backing vocals on the gorgeous "Old Man". The muscle from Stephen Stills' guitar on "Alabama" grunges and rocks with Neil's superb lead while Nash and Stills add layers to the finisher "Words (Between The Lines Of Age)" (lyrics from it title this review).

Re-listening to these four albums in a row is a revelatory experience. "Gold Rush" and "Harvest" have always received the plaudits - but now the first two have been given a new lease of life by these transfers - and I'm returning to them more - which is surely what a good remaster should make you do...and all of it is available for under a ten spot from most retailers...

The gold sticker on the jewel case of each of these issues says "Because Sound Matters" - and I think Rock's great curmudgeon was right to wait until he got it right...

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