Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Live & Kicking: Road Rock Vol. 1: Friends & Relatives - Neil Young - 2000

Road Rock Vol. 1After posting yesterday about double-live (or bigger) sets I love, I thought it would be fun to also sort through some lesser-celebrated live albums that also deserve a second listen. This album, in particular, requires a different approach as it impresses not with fireworks, but flares instead. Recorded during the North American tour in 2000, Road Rock Vol. 1 is a slow-burning, smoldering live set from Neil Young, one of only a handful of artists who should be given carte blanche to release live albums at will. From Time Fades Away to Year of the Horse, there's not a throwaway in the bunch, which is likely why spoiled fans were quick to trash Road Rock, which while being a mid-tier album for Neil, ranks right up there with any other live releases in recent memory.

I challenge anyone who doesn't own this album to resist purchase after listening to the first two minutes of "Cowgirl in the Sand." After nearly twenty minutes of rhythmic feedback frenzy, the segueway into On the Beach's "Walk On" carries the mood nicely. "Words" nearly equals "Cowgirl" and surpasses its former status as the nice, subdued, though hypnotic, track on Harvest and sets yet another standard for live Young performances. "Tonight's the Night" shines as expected and the closer with Chrissie Hynde, "All Along the Watchtower," is fine, a tune that's hard to wreck, and Neil performs it brilliantly.

That said, this is again just a middling live album for Neil. The "Friends and Relatives" are just OK, comprised largely of a few Stray Gators, Jim Keltner, Duck Dunn, and (the relatives) Pegi and Astrid Young. With relaxed backing musicians performing simple arrangements supporting a lot of Young soloing, there simply isn't much room for these guys to shine. And as for the back-up singers, they're fine, but the late Nicolette Larson and Linda Ronstadt are sorely missed, as they would be right at home with these tunes. Add to this the terrible "Fool For Your Love," a silly track that sounds like an Everybody's Rockin' outtake, completely out of sync with the mood of the other material on this album. No one in the band gets behind it and the results sound halfhearted and downright bored.

All in all, though, a fine, fine album. Had the "Friends and Relatives" moniker not led me to expect a little more from the backing band, I'd probably rank it closer to an all-time great. That said, it remains a must-own for Neil fans and a should-buy for anyone hungry for plain old rock and roll.

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