Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Letter Home by Neil Young

Neil Young and Jack White were on the Tonight Show a few weeks ago talking about their new project. White had restored a 1947 Voice-A-Graph recording booth and he and Young had recorded an album using it. The Voice-A-Graph booth, large enough for one person to fit in, was designed for people to be able to record their own 45 RPM records.

Young released a boxed set from the recording session on May 27th, which I understand is already sold out. My daughter had bought me a copy as soon as I had mentioned the Tonight Show appearance and gave it to me for Father's Day.  Here's the package.

The box is made to look like a battered cardboard box that you've been keeping your memories in for the past 50 years. The photograph of Neil in the booth, is actually taped to the box with packing tape.

Inside there are 2 vinyl LPs. These are pressed on heavy vinyl. One of them as the direct feed from the Voice-A-Graph the other has a 'cleaned-up' version. I have a record player but I will probably never actually play these.

There is a 32-page booklet with lyrics, credits and photos of Young and White.

There is a CD and a DVD. The DVD has a video of each song as Young recorded it stuffed into the booth with his guitar and harmonica.  The CD contains all the songs, directly off the machine. Very lo-fi and full of hiss and noise from the turntable motor. In 1947, people were probably amazed at these recordings, but frankly, they are hard to listen to. The box also came with a offer of a digital download of the 'cleaned-up" versions. Much easier on the ears.

And finally,

seven, clear vinyl double-sided discs containing the 14 tracks. These are what the discs recorded on the machine look like.

So, the packaging is great, how is the music?  As anyone who has followed this blog knows, I am a big Neil Young fan. I like this a lot. As mentioned, the recordings are spare. Neil on his guitar and his voice. A little harmonica here and there and some piano. Some backup vocals from Jack White.  The recordings are apparently complete takes. Young misses a chord here and there, sometimes blows a bit too hard on the harmonica, and his voice cracks a bit. It's like he is playing these just for me, in my living room.

 The song are all covers. Neil explained on The Tonight Show that these are all songs that always meant a lot to him. There are some great songs here, some of them not well known. My favorites are "Changes" by Phil Ochs, "Needle of Death" by Burt Jansch, "Girl of the North Country" by Bob Dylan, "Reason to Believe" by Tim Harden and "My Hometown" by Bruce Springsteen.

Neil Young will be 69 years old this November. In my opinion, if this was the last recording he ever made, it would be a good one to go out on.

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