Producers: Neil Young and Niko Bolas
Track listing: Beautiful Bluebird, Boxcar, Ordinary People, Shining Light, The Believer, Spirit Road, Dirty Old Man, Ever After, No Hidden Path, The Way
Musicians: Primary Players: Neil Young (vocals, guitars, banjo, harmonica, grand piano, pump organ, vibes, percussion), Ben Keith (pedal steel guitar, lap slide guitar, dobro, electric guitar, organ, vocals), Rick Rosas (bass, vocals), Ralph Molina (drums, vocals). Background singers: Nancy Hall, Annie Stocking, Peggi Young, Larry Cragg, Choristers: Rebecca Shaw, Vera Kahn, Moraima Avalos, William Cabiniss, Che Elliot, Rosa Loveszy, Christina Lu, Jamal Marcelin, Lluvia Perez, Owen Smith, Julie Urena, Emily Viola, Reginald Wilson, Catherine McGough, Helen Parzick. And "Ordinary People" features The Blue Notes: Neil (vocals, guitar), Poncho Sampedro (guitar), Rick Rosas (bass), Chad Chromwell (drums), Ben Keith (alto saxophone), Steve Lawrence (tenor saxophone, keyboards), Larry Cragg (baritone saxophone), Claude Cailliet (trombone), John Fumo (trumpet), Tom Bray (trumpet)
This week's album, Chrome Dreams II, is a supposed sequel to an unreleased Neil Young album from the mid 1970s. Given that this album is recorded roughly thirty years later with a different band, different producer, and uses no material from the first record, I fail to understand the connection. Still, it's a pretty decent album. Unlike the more thematic albums which seem to have so far dominated Neil's 21st century releases (Living With War, Greendale, Silver & Gold), Chrome Dreams II is more eclectic, something along the lines of Freedom. Neil and his fellow musicians bounce from rock and roll to country to pop music and even journey through the past to bring back the Bluenotes and their amazing horn section.
The musicians featured on this album consist of an all-star cast of Neil Young alumni. Neil, who is never one to collect rust, decided to shake things up. Instead of using one of his standard bands, or group of session musicians, he seemingly picked a different player from each of his best known projects. On bass is Rick Rosas (Volume Dealers), on drums is Ralph Molina (Crazy Horse), and they're joined by Ben Keith (Stray Gators) on lap steel. This peculiar line-up helps to create a very sonically diverse record. These include quiet country numbers like "Beautiful Bluebird", a raging 14 minute rocker called "No Hidden Path" and an upbeat soul number I can easily picture Otis Redding singing called "The Believer".
Still, the best moment on this record is track three: "Ordinary People". This song was originally recorded by Neil and producer Niko Bolas with the Bluenotes in 1988 during the This Note's For You sessions. Although this is such an amazing song it's easy to see why it wasn't on the original record. It comes from a time when Neil was making less guitar dominated rock and roll songs and this song features at least three blazing distorted guitar solos. Also, it just doesn't sound like anything else on the Bluenotes record, which has a much more jazzy feel to it. Still, this song alone is worth the price of admission.
As we continue down the road exploring the career of Neil Young we're about to encounter a marked change. Many of the musicians like Rick Rosas and Ben Keith who played with Neil throughout his career have now died. These recordings, and a few more of the newer releases I'll be reviewing in the weeks to come, feature some of the last moments of these legendary players. On the track "Ever After" you can hear Ben Keith playing some of the most beautiful slide guitar this planet has ever heard. This is the guy who played with Patsy Cline, countless other country legends, and spent a lifetime by Neil's side. It's a bit sad to hear this and realize it won't ever been played like this again.
NEXT WEEK: Neil Young - Sugar Mountain: