Neil Young – Hitchhiker (Reprise)

I was first introduced to Neil Young, when he teamed up with Pearl Jam, to perform Rockin’ in the Free World in 1993. Two years later members of PJ and Neil Young teamed up again but this time to record together on Young’s Mirror Ball album. At the tail end of that collaboration, Young and PJ would lay down tracks for Merkin Ball (not to be confused with Young’s Mirror Ball), a two-song single that would be released under PJ’s Epic label.

It’s safe to say my admiration and exposure to Neil Young steadily grew after that, as I began to immerse myself with his back catalogue of deeply heartfelt lyrics and ever changing musical style. I just love how comfortable he is, whether he is playing an acoustic set, or cranking it up with his signature distorted electric guitar.

When it comes to his acoustic projects, there is none better than Hitchhiker, a newly unearthed Young gem recorded way back in 1976, at Indigo Studios in Malibu and remastered and released this month.

I could so easily put on my headphones and get lost in this surprising release by Young. It is true that most of the tracks on this album show up in later Young albums, but it is just simply incredible to hear them stripped down, raw and intimate, like Young once intended them to be. My favourite tracks are Powderfinger, Campaigner, Hitchhiker and two never-before-released tracks, Hawaii and Give Me Strength.

Foo Fighters – Concrete and Gold (Roswell Records/ RCA)

Along with my copy of the Concrete and Gold CD, a little label sticker stuck to it said, “Testing the limits of speakers everywhere.” Seriously they weren’t kidding!

After being deafened by a persistently screaming Dave Grohl and shredding guitars on Run, Make It Right and The Sky Is A Neighbourhood I found myself doing something I have never done before, I pressed the skip track button on the opening minute of La Dee Da to give my overloaded senses time to adjust.

I’m just going to say it, the Foo Fighters are one of my all time favourite modern rock bands, but my friends there is a disturbance in the force with their 9th album Concrete and Gold that would leave even Yoda scratching his head. I’m not sure I recognise this version of the Foo Fighters that I’ve grown to love over twenty odd years. But I guess kudos is still due to Dave and the gang for crafting a solid rock album even if there really is being nothing new explored here. Come on guys, lets be honest here!

Yet despite my reservation about it heavy rock sound, the Foo Fighters have nonetheless challenged me to reconsider my praise for them. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Run, for example, a tribute to what is great about punk rock, but the back-end of the album (thank god) is definitely a nice change, to all those loud shimmering guitars, especially Dirty Water and Happy Ever After (Zero Hour) a lovely little music-hall acoustic ditty. While Sunday Rain stands out as a favourite track, where rock ‘n’ roll royalty Paul McCartney elegantly does his things on drums. Talking about drums, Taylor Hawkins is incredible throughout the album with his equally deft touch and heavy hitting tempo. In short, Foo fighters more pleasing moments are their quieter numbers and I’m sure I will probably warm to this album in its entirety in good time, but I might wait until the ringing in my ears stops first.

Tori Amos – Native Invader (Decca Records)

There is something always so familiar about Tori Amos that keep me coming back to her over the years and that is her unwavering spirit.

As a surprisingly candid singer songwriter that writes often from personal experience, we feel her strength and vulnerability as a woman through an amazing back catalogue beginning with Little Earthquakes released in 1991. Her controversial lead single Me and a Gun about her harrowing sexual assault when she was 21, set in motion an artistic awakening seldomly rivalled by her contemporaries. Then came arguably her greatest triumph Cornflake Girl that had critics spellbound and fans singing along with its anthemic chorus, despite its vague references to sexual oppression, female adolescence and betrayal.

She takes inspiration yet again from personal upheaval and almost everything that is wrong with our modern world from politics to nature, on incredibly her 15th album Native Invader. Reindeer King with its driving piano sets the tone for what is an incredible album. How Amos’ voice never fails is beyond me! It is as always breathtaking, as is her choice of arrangements – electric and acoustic guitars, electronic beats and her unfailing grand piano. My favourite album tracks are Reindeer King, Broken Arrow, Cloud Riders and Mary’s Eyes.

Angus & Julia Stone – Snow (EMI)

This singer songwriting duo never cease to surprise me, employing some new skills and sounds (listen for that double keyboard organ that infiltrates much of the album) to make this their best album yet. Interestingly, for those who know something about vocal layering, it takes on an impressive new life on this album, in particularly, on the track Chateau. But as impressive as that technique is, we as fans are always going to be mesmerised by the faithful harmonies shared in turn by the siblings. Julia’s fragile breathy vocals, complemented by Angus brooding voice, wash over you, on every single track. That said, everything about this album makes for an intimate listening experience. Just simply from the opening bars of Snow, with Julia’s la la la’s, she truly makes you want to fall in love with her. So, just in case you have forgotten how good an easy listening album fuelled by indie rock-folk sounds, do yourself a favour and listen to Angus & Julia Stone’s new album Snow.

Photo Credit: The header image is a collage of all four albums that I have reviewed above. They are courtesy of Reprise, Roswell Records/RCA, Decca Records and EMI. I make use of them under the rationale of fair use because no free equivalent seems to exist and they serve as the primary means of visual identification at the top of my article dedicated to the reviews in question. I am not the uploader of the You Tube clip embedded here.

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