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On The Beach – Neil YoungAmerican Stars ‘n Bars – Neil Young Hawks and Doves – Neil Young Re*ac*tor – Neil Young and Crazy Horse

Reprise Records 48497-2

Reprise Records 48496-2

Reprise Records 48499-2

Reprise Records 48498-2

It's a major celebration for Neil Young fans that these four albums have
finally been released on compact disc. The albums, which came out more than
two decades ago, had been held up due to Young's dissatisfaction with the
sound
quality of CDs versus vinyl. He wanted to wait until digital technology
could
better replicate the continuous sound wave produced by a needle riding on a
slab of plastic. These HDCD versions apparently made him happy.

Now, the completists only need Young to release Journey Through the
Past, Time Fades Away and the Eldorado EP to satisfy them
and make all of his
three dozen releases available on CD. For those who fail to be listed as
diehards, these albums contain a mixed
bag of goods, some minor gems that are worthy of your time but not the best
titles to introduce you to Young's country/folk/rock ways.

Originally released in 1974, On the Beach is the oldest of the
re-releases. It includes appearances by David Crosby, Graham Nash, Rick
Danko and
Levon Helm. The album finds Young moving about shell-shocked at personal
events
(the heroin overdoses of two friends that were also chronicled on
Tonight's the
Night and stardom as a solo artist and in CSNY) and world events (lying
politicians, environmental decay, oil addiction).

Other than the surprisingly upbeat "Walk On," it doesn't contain any
instantly memorable, hook-driven tracks. Yet the overall mood and ghostly
demeanor
make On the Beach mesmerizing.

On the other hand, with Crazy Horse in tow, 1981's "Re*ac*tor" is filled
with memorable numbers. But unlike On the Beach, they lack a degree
of
depth. The nine minutes of "T-bone" could be seen as an indictment of the
haves
versus the have-nots or just a repetitive waste. I tend to favor the first
view
but that's just my own perverse taste enjoying the syncopated grind of Young
with his Crazy Horse mates.

With production that seems to emulate the minimalism of the punk and new
wave scene and a subtle nod to such artists on "Rapid Transit," the music on
Re*ac*tor has a certain distinctive clatter as much as it rumbles.
Lambasted
by critics when it was originally released, it's not as bad as some have
made
it out to be. If you favor Young's loose interaction with Crazy Horse, then
you'll find a few reasons to crank up the volume.

American Stars ‘n Bars finds Young alongside Crazy Horse for much of
this 1977 album but the musical roadmap runs down a country road. For anyone
who
found his 1985 pure country album Old Ways a shock to the system (and
that
includes Geffen executives who sued Young after its release for not making
Neil Young-type albums), they must not have paid attention to Bars
and even
parts of Comes a Time and Hawks & Doves.

The inclusion of "Like a Hurricane" among all these country and country
rock tracks makes sense on a thematic level but, sonically, the song appears
like the black
sheep in the middle of a white herd.

Because of its use of the American flag as part of its cover art, its
release around the time of Ronald Reagan's presidency and Young's quotes in
praise of the former California governor turned U.S. president, 1980's
Hawks &
Doves gained a reputation as Young's support for the Republican party.

I don't buy into that line of thought. The album's title extols a sense
of balance, a reflection of the two sides of America, rather than an
endorsement of hawkish behavior. In an interview years later, Young
explained that he
bought into the Reagan idea of favoring old style values. Even the album's
final
tracks offer two vastly different views — the system not working on "Coming
Apart at Every Nail" and the still-glad-to-be-here exclamation in the title
track.

The album's split of acoustic and electric numbers reflects this bi-polar
setting, presenting an intimate and serene atmosphere followed by some
rabble-rousing moments.

Like the other three releases, Hawks & Doves has its moments. All of
them provide additional shades of Young's career; someone who remains a
classic
artist who reinvents himself at every turn, as frustrating as that
can
sometimes be, rather than a classic rocker who regurgitates the several hits
that
worked so well all those years ago.

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