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HuffPost Reviews: Neil Young - Fork In The Road / Simon & Garfunkel - Live 1969

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Neil Young - Fork In The Road

"Takin' a trip across the USA, gonna see a lot of people along the way," sings Neil Young on "When Worlds Collide," the first song of his new ten-track travelogue, Fork In The Road. Following the full-throttle activism of his previous album, Living With War (Young's indictment of the U.S.'s Middle-East occupations and the Bush administration), this time out, the socially-conscious artist offers a road map of sorts to a nation (and world) currently choosing its future direction. Like Living With War, there are plenty of guitars a-janglin' and a proper dose of finger-waggin'; but Fork In The Road is more interested in focusing on the joy that is our love affair with cars, Young's own passion that led to the creation of LincVolt technology that converts gas guzzlers into bio-mobiles. The album comes fully-loaded with "car" metaphors and allegories (just like this paragraph), but it's a fun ride for Young's usual passengers as well as anyone just checking out what's under the hood.

First off, "When Worlds Collide" shows us the path we've traveled, where "wrong is right," "truth is fiction," and how "strange things happen when worlds collide." However, there is no rowdy "Let's Impeach The President" fist-shaking, it's all Obama-cool fist-bumping. Among the retro, garage rock 'n' roll and bluesy rockers embedded here, Young offers catchy chants such as "Cough Up The Bucks"'s repeated title that plays off its main theme, "Where did all the money go? Where did all the cash flow? Where did all the revenues stream?" The answer is found in the song's opening line, "It's all about my car, it's all about my girl...it's all about my world," and aware of that reality, Young launches into his solution in "Johnny Magic," the story of an "inventor" and the Wichita, Kansas, company that converted his 1959 Lincoln Continental into an efficient, bio-fueled/battery-powered vehicle.

In November 2008, Young told the San Francisco Chronicle's Al Saracevic, "All we're doing is showing that you can run a car like this at 100 miles per gallon or more," and "Johnny Magic" expands that intention to widescreen proportions as Young travels to Washington and, Mr. Smith-style, takes Congress on a ride in his "Heavy Metal Continental." On that topic, "Fuel Line" gives us another shout-a-long with its tag "Keep fillin' that fuel line, keep fillin' that old fuel line" that can be interpreted as both sarcasm (like "go on, keep wasting gas, moron") and suggestion (as in "we can fill 'er up on bio-fuel 'til she pukes"). "Get Behind The Wheel" is yet another car tribute that can be taken two ways: literally, as Young's simple statement, "Gotta get behind the wheel in the morning and drive," or as his pitch to get our metal mates up to green specs since we spend so much time riding and adoring them.

Fork In The Road's more sensitive tracks use their slower tempos and reduced production thump to bring home philosophies like, "You know that the end is not in sight...you can never take your eyes off the road" ("Off The Road"), "You can sing about change while you're makin' your own...just singing a song won't change the world" ("Just Singing A Song"), and "Instead of cursing the darkness, light a candle for where we're goin', there's something ahead worth lookin' for," from the album's angelic Harvest/After The Gold Rush love child, "Light A Candle." But for the most part, the album rocks along courtesy of Neil Young (guitars and vocals), Anthony Crawford (electric, acoustic, and lap steel guitars, Hammond B-3, background vocals), Rick Rosas (bass), Chad Cromwell (drums), and wife, Pegi Young (vibes, acoustic guitar, background vocals). It was produced by the artist and Niko Bolas (alias "The Volume Dealers"), and it was recorded in NYC's Legacy Studios and London's famous RAK Studios.

Neil Young's sense of humor shines in scattered lines throughout (as well as on all of the album's associated videos), but, weirdly, Fork In The Road's title track is as serious as it is goofy. Its well-conceived randomness breaks into one of the album's most memorable sing-a-longs: "There's a bailout comin' but it's not for you, it's for all those creeps hidin' what they do." All true, and the Young/Bubba hybrid of "Fork In The Road" (featured on the best intentionally bloggy video this side of YouTube) rants and rolls about change and choices, such as when he addresses the horrors of a flat-screen repossession that results in a hole in the wall and missing a Raiders game. The track's most commendable "thank God someone's saying that" moment (and probably iTunes' least favorite) is when Young offers up the ugly truth about online sound quality: "Download this...sounds like s*%#." And whether it be about everyone having to adjust what they do to make money ("My friend has a pickup...he takes his wife to beauty school, now she's doin' nails..."), bringing the troops home ("They're all still there in a f#%*ing war, it's no good, whose idea was that?"), staying positive ("I've got hope, but you can't eat hope..."), or even about his own career ("My sales have tanked, but I've still got you, thanks..."), Young's mission on this and every song on the album is to make you think, and maybe even re-consider some out-of-the-box, "wacky" ideas--you know, like bio-fuel car conversions.

Many will appreciate Fork In The Road's altruism, and it would be refreshing if Neil Young disciples (such as the musically prolific Matthew Sweet) dedicated whole projects to the causes of their hearts. However, many will feel that this album is just a mile-marker along Young's journey to his next epiphany. But remember how the futuristic/controversial Trans endeared itself to a younger, more open-minded generation than the previous one who just wanted their favorite rockstar to keep grunging along or, in the very least, write "Heart Of Gold-Part X"? Well, now Young is no longer merely dreaming about those silver spaceships...he's making his own and riding in them, and this time, Mother Nature doesn't have to be on the run. After living with war for years, with the effects of global warming becoming more apparent, and feeling the consequences of funding every consumer and Wall Street whim, we finally are experiencing some of those scary forecasts that now place our future in that proverbial fork in the road. All Neil Young wants is for us to choose our path wisely and drive down it efficiently.

Tracks:
1. When Worlds Collide
2. Fuel Line
3. Just Singing A Song
4. Johnny Magic
5. Cough Up The Bucks
6. Get Behind The Wheels
7. Off The Road
8. Hit The Road
9. Light A Candle
10. Fork In The Road

Simon & Garfunkel - Live 1969

When Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel toured the U.S. in November 1969, several of their concerts were recorded by their producer/engineer, Roy Halee, for what was planned to be an eventual live album, their sixth as Simon & Garfunkel, the follow-up to their then-unreleased future classic, Bridge Over Troubled Waters. Basically, they took the Bridge band on the road (keyboardist Larry Knechtel, guitarist Fred Carter Jr., bassist Joe Osborn, and drummer Hal Blaine), and served-up much of that album's repertoire along with newly-augmented versions of their older hits such as the eternally-referenced "Mrs. Robinson" (the studio version having been featured in Mike Nichols' film, The Graduate). The concept was new for the pair, their having performed comfortably for years to pared-down, Simonized guitar versions of "Homeward Bound," "At The Zoo," and "Scarborough Fair," "I Am A Rock," etc. But finally having completed what was going to be their final studio album, this was a time for big changes, especially with Art also embarking on a new acting career.

Live 1969's seventeen tracks were assembled meticulously by producer Bob Irwin from Simon & Garfunkel's well-recorded and preserved Long Beach, Toledo, Detroit, St. Louis, Carbondale, and New York performances, and it follows the excellent Live From New York City, 1967 that mainly collects the duo's second and third quarter career favorites. Though Live 1969 already has had a limited release as a counter item at Starbucks coffee shops, its official April 15 drop date marks its debut in Simon & Garfunkel CD bins. It's an important apocryphal piece because it fills in an historical gap as it presents the two in top musical form despite their looming dissolution that was unconsciously in process. There are so many highlights on this live CD, such as when Art's voice on "Bridge Over Troubled Waters"--accompanied only by Larry Knechtel's piano--soars as powerfully as it does on the eventually-released studio version of the song (and check out "For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her" to experience equally impressive vocal gymnastics). More spot checks would include Paul's quick ad-libs on "The Sound Of Silence" and "At The Zoo" that reveal the kinds of vocal riffs and attitude he would employ on his eventual self-titled debut; their cover of "That Silver-Haired Daddy Of Mine," originally recorded by the duo's original inspiration, The Everly Brothers, on their '58 album, Songs Our Daddy Taught Us; an almost completely harmonized version of "Song For The Asking"; and most importantly, their musical ease together, harmonizing in pitch and sync while straying from a song's original arrangement.

There are even awkward, playful moments that, surprisingly, are included, such as Art's Instant Karma after he admonishes a fan who yells out a technical request. He replies, "Keyboards should be louder, huh? What record label do you produce for?" then announces their next performance as "one of the new songs," continuing "I used to study architecture..." but is interrupted immediately because he misspoke about the sequence. Art acknowledges his faux pas and comically back-pedals with, "Uh, no, this is NOT one of the new songs, actually..." The song he did reference is "So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright" whose chord pattern is as complicated as one of that architect's designs. Paul's wandering key changes and flirtations with jazz and Brazilian (especially when presented starkly in concert) fool you away from its classical nature, each chord's simple yet intelligent movement resolving like Bach meets Bartók. Art's voice easily tracks the challenging melody line as if he were singing a nursery rhyme, and by the performance's conclusion, all have inhabited a structure divinely constructed. And the pair also performs "The Boxer" flawlessly, restoring the song's missing half stanza, "Now the years are rolling by me, they are rocking evenly, I am older than I once was and younger than I'll be, that's not unusual. No it isn't strange, after changes upon changes, we are more or less the same. After changes, we are more or less the same." Their hit version, released earlier in the year, did not include those lyrics, so this tour probably supplied the first opportunity anyone had to hear the excised verse.

"Old Friends/Bookends Theme" shows the childhood pals in perfect harmony, but with a kind of sadness that sounds like they knew, on some level, that they were on the last months of their time together. The concert ends with "Kathy's Song" in which Paul sings, "...and the song I was writing was left undone, I don't know why I spend my time writing songs I can't believe with words that tear and strain to rhyme." Concluding the album with those thoughts, the recording serves as a bittersweet commentary on their legendary partnership--at least this phase of it, considering the live reunion tours and unreleased studio project that followed. Over the decades since their heyday, glimpses of Simon & Garfunkel have surfaced in many recordings, most recently, by those of Cambridge's The Weepies who embrace their more pop elements, and Norway's Kings Of Convenience whose "Homesick" channels S&G's Parsely, Sage, Rosemary And Thyme period like a séance. But back in the sixties, absolutely no one was creating this caliber of sophisticated folk-pop-art, and years later, after semi-successful country runs at the Everly sound, there still are no acts that have picked up all the pieces of that Simon & Garfunkel puzzle. Live 1969 is not any kind of Rosetta Stone, but it does help to decipher why two kids from Queens were so important in the musical scheme of things.

Tracks:
1. Homeward Bound
2. At The Zoo
3. The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)
4. Song For The Asking
5. For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her
6. Scarborough Fair/Canticle
7. Mrs. Robinson
8. The Boxer
9. Why Don't You Write Me
10. So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright
11. That Silver-Haired Daddy Of Mine
12. Bridge Over Troubled Waters
13. The Sound Of Silence
14. I Am A Rock
15. Old Friends/Bookends Theme
16. Leaves That Are Green
17. Kathy's Song