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New(ish) Music Reviews – Neil Young, U.S. Girls, Jonathan Wilson

This week we look at two releases from the first quarter of the year, and one album that was scheduled to be released 45 years ago. Enjoy!

Neil Young

Homegrown

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Neil Young enjoyed an inspired golden age between May 1969’s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and June 1979’s Rust Never Sleeps. He released ten albums of new material (including the live Time Fades Away), as well as joining Crosby, Stills, and Nash for Deja Vu, and teaming up with Stephen Stills for Long May You Run.

It turns out that there was a full unreleased record waiting in the archives. Young was scheduled to release Homegrown in early 1975. The cover art was finalised, but at a listening party, Young decided to instead release Tonight’s The Night, shelved since 1973, on the basis that it was the stronger record.

Homegrown finally turned up in 2020, although many of its tracks have trickled out previously – ‘Star of Bethlehem’ and a different version of the title track turned up on American Stars ‘n’ Bars, ‘Love Is A Rose’ was featured on the 1977 compilation Decade, and ‘Little Wing’ emerged on 1980’s Hawks & Doves. A Crazy Horse version of ‘White Line’ turned up on 1990’s Ragged Glory.

Advance familiarity with almost half of the tracks in other contexts makes it difficult to judge Homegrown – it feels like a compilation as a result. Musically, it’s somewhere between the country-rock of Harvest and the rawness of Ditch Trilogy records like Time Fades Away. There’s certainly some top-tier material among the new tracks – ‘Vacancy’ is an accomplished rocker with a guitar riff that’s similar to ‘World on a String’ from Tonight’s The Night,

The opening run of three songs are all previously unreleased – the opener ‘Separate Ways’ recalls Harvest, with the lyrics eulogising Young’s relationship with actress Carrie Snodgress, while ‘Mexico’ is pretty with Young on piano. The spoken word ‘Florida’ opens the second side with one of the most surprising pieces in Young’s 1970s catalogue – it doesn’t stand up to repeated listening, but it bridges effectively into ‘Kansas’, which opens with the line “I feel like I just woke up/From a bad dream.” ‘White Line’ is the most altered of the previously released songs – here it’s a joint effort between Young and Robbie Robertson, with Robertson on lead guitar.

It’s not a top-tier Young effort from the 1970s, like On The Beach or Rust Never Sleeps, but Homegrown is far too good to have stayed languishing in the archives for 45 years.


U.S. Girls

Heavy Light

Meghan Remy grew up in Illinois, but moved her experimental pop project U.S. Girls to Toronto in 2010. Adding a poppy sheen to her music helped Meg Remy gain attention for her previous record, 2018’s In A Poem Unlimited. ‘M.A.H.’ sounded like a lost Blondie track. 2020’s Heavy Light feels like a good followup, rather than a great one.

Remy’s often a provocative lyricist, and she’s doubled down on this aspect by including a few answer sessions with her bandmates on Heavy Light. Tracks like ‘Advice to my Teenage Self’ and ‘The Colour of my Childhood Bedroom’ are brief monologues that interrupt the flow.

The opening track, though, is great. ‘4 American Dollars’ recalls 1960s girl group fare with its organ and backing vocals, although it also has a contemporary sheen. It’s funky, and it closes with a memorable tag line.

I don’t believe in pennies, and nickels
And dimes, and dollars, and pesos, and pounds, and
Rupees, and yen, and rubles, no dinero

Other memorable tracks include ‘Woodstock ‘99’, which uses parts of Jimmy Webb’s ‘McArthur Park’, and ‘Born to Lose’ which again mines the blue-eyed soul sound.

Heavy Light is a little disjointed and disappointing after In A Poem Unlimited, but U.S. Girls remain vibrant and entertaining.


Jonathan Wilson

Dixie Blur

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North Carolina’s Jonathan Wilson is in his mid-40s and not a household name but he’s exceedingly well-connected. He tours with Roger Waters, has produced Roy Harper, and played with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Dixie Blur is his fourth album, and it sounds piped straight in from the 1970s.

Wilson now resides in Laurel Canyon, but relocated to Nashville to record the Americana of Dixie Blur. More than anything, however, Wilson reminds me of British 1970s singer-songwriter Al Stewart, with his warm voice and finger-picked guitar; opener ‘Just For Love’ recalls Stewart’s ‘Broadway Hotel’ from 1976’s Year of the Cat.

Dixie Blur is so blatantly retro that it’s sliding toward irrelevancy. But it’s worth the price of admission just for Mark O’Connor’s gorgeous fiddle playing – O’Connor’s largely avoided session work over the past few decades, not enjoying the recording process. But Wilson coaxed him into playing by recording the tracks live in the studio, giving the music a warm and organic feel.

Dixie Blur is often more worthwhile for the pretty playing than it is for memorable songwriting. As well as O’Connor’s fiddle driving tracks like ‘So Alive’ and ‘El Camino Real’, Russ Pahl plays some lovely pedal steel on tracks like ‘Riding the Blinds’. ‘Oh Girl’ recalls the space rock of Pink Floyd, which makes sense given Wilson’s role playing Gilmour’s parts on Roger Waters’ shows.

Dixie Blur is lovely, although more notable for the playing than the songs.

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14 thoughts on “New(ish) Music Reviews – Neil Young, U.S. Girls, Jonathan Wilson Leave a comment

  1. As somebody who really digs Neil Young, perhaps not surprisingly, I’m mostly drawn to his album, though I agree it’s certainly not his best.

    I had not heard anything of the two other artists you highlighted. Spontaneously, based on listening into a few tunes from each album, Jonathan Wilson speaks to me a bit more than U.S. Girls; coz whether I like it or not, when it comes to music in general, I’m a yesterday man, well my friend that’s what I am. 🙂

    Though I’ve been making a conscious effort to venture beyond my beloved ’60s and ’70s decades to discover more contemporary artists!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My son has the Young album on vinyl and from what I’ve heard it does sound good. I wish more artists had albums like this sitting around.

    I love the sound of Jonathan Wilson’s Just For You…it sounds really good. I was going to try to mix some of my stuff a little while back and was searching for mixing techniques…I read an article about him. He still uses a mellotron and old echo plates.

    He records with tape and a few songs are pure analog and some are mixed with digital. Some studios in Nashville have installed tape consoles again so artists can get the best of both worlds. I didn’t think I’d ever see that. Interesting guy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Definitely are a few artists with big archives – Prince, Springsteen, Paddy McAloon from Prefab Sprout. I think Neil Young also has Chrome Dreams that was never released. American Stars N Bars is kind of a mashup of abandoned stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree on your last sentence of the Wilson take.The music has me very curious. I have a friend who loves pedal steel so I’m going to send this his way. O’Connor is good. I hear a lot of the early Crimson in this. CB was a big Al Stewart guy. Thanks for the lead.

    Liked by 1 person

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