Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Neil Young - Homegrown

Neil Young – Homegrown
(soniclovenoize reconstruction)

Side A:
1.  Homegrown
2.  Little Wing
3.  The Old Homestead
4.  Love is a Rose
5.  Love Art Blues

Side B:
6.  Star of Bethlehem
7.  Give Me Strength
8.  Deep Forbidden Lake
9.  Pardon My Heart
10.  White Line

Happy Valentine’s Day!  What better way to celebrate this day of romance than with an album all about the loss of love and its effects thereafter!  This is a reconstruction of the unreleased Neil Young album Homegrown, the subdued and acoustic album primarily about Young’s separation from his wife Carrie Snodgress.  Originally meant to be released in 1975 as the proper follow-up to On The Beach, it was shelved in favor of the more electric and immediate Tonight’s The Night, never to see the light of day.  Since most of the recordings reported to have been featured on Homegrown are not available to listeners, this reconstruction attempts to compile all available songs that were at least recorded during the Homegrown sessions in order to present an approximate facsimile of what Homegrown could have sounded like; luckily there is just enough to make a ten-song album.  All songs have been volume-adjusted for continuity and album cohesion.

Neil Young has always been a man on the edge, a troubadour who embraced his inner-turmoil.  This was a characteristic that informed his music and ensured a long-lasting artistic integrity.  Presented with mainstream success that outshined his previous musical outlets with several hits from his 1972 album Harvest, Neil Young choose to intentionally follow-up the album’s commercial acoustics with more abrasive and difficult material to challenge his newly horizoned audience.  The subsequent albums were called “The Ditch Trilogy”, formed by 1973’s Time Fades Away, 1974’s On The Beach and 1975’s Tonight’s The Night.  All three projects shared the theme of loss and how Young dealt with it emotionally, as Young lost three of his closest confidants in the course of making the albums.  But “The Ditch Trilogy” is a misnomer, as it should have been the Ditch Tetralogy: the fourth and final recorded project during Young’s turbulent 1972-1975 era remained in his vault, as it not only was too personal, but the sound of the album was too reminiscent of Harvest, the album he strove to shy away from.  Regardless, it is the quintessential Ditch album, the final word of that era, although it was never actually heard. 

After being fired from Crazy Horse years earlier, Young had given guitarist Danny Whitten a second chance with a rhythm guitar spot in his backing band The Stray Gators for the upcoming Harvest Tour.  Unable to perform competently due to his rampant alcoholism and heroin addiction, Young fired Whitten a second time.  Within 24 hours, Whitten was dead, overdosed on alcohol and Valium.  The effect on Young was immense, as he felt he was responsible for Whitten’s death.  The initial outcome was Time Fades Away, recorded live on the subsequent tour, mere months after Whitten’s death.  The sloppy sound of anguish and denial—an artist in mourning with an inebriated backing band—Young has since regretted the album, possibly due to the sound quality of the album, recorded live by very early digital technology.  Time Fades Away exists solely as a document of this troubled time in Young’s career, which was only strengthened by an additional subtext of the tour: Young was growing apart from his wife Carrie Snodgress, the muse of his Harvest.  The freedoms of a rock star’s wife did not seem to gel with the pressures of a grieving and overbooked rock star, and the two became distant.

A brief interlude from the turmoil occurred as a hopeful writing and recording session with a reunited Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in mid-1973, resulting in the genesis of the Human Highway project (which was also reconstructed on this author’s blog).  Unfortunately, a second casualty temporarily ceased the project, as Neil Young and CSNY’s long-time roadie Bruce Berry overdosed on heroin, a habit that was introduced to him by none other than Danny Whitten.  Leaving Crosby, Stills and Nash to their own battling egos, Young recorded possibly the rawest and most anguished recording of the 1970s, Tonight’s The Night, between August and September.  A painful ode to both Whitten and Berry, the album was perhaps too raw and Young sat on the completed recording for the remainder of the year while road-testing the material, toying with the mixing and sequence, finding the best way to release the album.  This cathartic tour for a soon-to-be-released record became a stereotype for rock band excess, and as Snodgress later recollected, was the beginning of the end of her marriage with Young. 

With a more-or-less completed album in his back pocket and a slew of even newer songs, Young returned to the studio in February 1974 and recorded the third of his Ditch Trilogy, On The Beach.  While more refined than the previous Ditch albums, anguish still loomed over the songs while still soaked by the drug excess of the previous year’s tour.  With Young both emotionally and physically absent, the lonely and hungry eye of the rock star’s wife looked in other directions; surely he had taken other lovers while on the road, why couldn’t Carrie?  As the album was being released, Young's realization that Snodgress had been cheating on him unleashed a flurry of new songs about their disintegrating relationship and the break-up of their family.  Young was given a surprise opportunity to road-test his new material with a re-reunited CSN&Y, on a much-hyped national tour through the rest of 1974 that the band later called “The Doom Tour”.  During rehearsals for the tour, Young recorded one of his new laments, “Pardon My Heart”, as well as an acoustic backstage duet with The Band’s Robbie Robertson on another of his new compositions “White Line”. 

The miserable CSNY tour ended that fall, and in November Young went into Quadrafonic Sound Studios in Nashville to capture the heartbroken ballads he had written about Snodgress, including “Star of Bethlehem” and “Frozen Man”.  Temporarily returning home to his ranch, Young found Carrie with her lover and he kicked her out; it was officially over.  After this heart-crushing break from the recording sessions, Young returned to Quadrafonic in December, tracking a number of bleak yet razor-sharp songs of romantic despair that seemed to balance between western-tinged, full-band renditions and solo acoustic performances, some also tracked at his home studio Broken Arrow.  Songs recorded during these sessions include: “Separate Ways”, “Love is a Rose”, “Love Art Blues”, “Homefires”, “The Old Homestead”, “Deep Forbidden Lake”, “Homegrown”, “We Don’t Smoke It”, “Vacancy”, “Try” and “Give Me Strength.”  In January 1975, final recordings for this new project, now called Homegrown, were tracked in LA at The Village Recorder, including “Little Wing”, “Kansas”, “Mexico” and “Florida.”  The exact tracklist of Homegrown was never published but it is believed to include any number of the aforementioned 17 songs from the Quadrafonic, Broken Arrow and Village Recorder sessions, as well as “Pardon My Heart” and “White Line” recorded during The Doom Tour. 

While Young was uncertain about releasing Homegrown because of its brutal honesty (he even claimed he couldn’t sit through the entire album), the label was excited for Young’s return to a more delicate sound after his recent abrasive albums.  In typical Neil Young fashion, that was never to be.  In the oft-repeated story, Young previewed Homegrown to a party of friends; after the album finished, the rough cut of Tonight’s The Night—still unreleased from 1973's work—played afterwards.  More impressed by the later work, The Band bassist Rick Danko suggested to release Tonight’s The Night instead of Homegrown.  And that is exactly what Young did that June of 1975 and Homegrown as it’s completed album has never been heard outside a select few.  

Only a handful of the various songs from the Homegrown sessions have been released over the years, wetting fan’s appetites for what was purported to be Neil Young’s strongest and most emotionally vulnerable album.  Many have tried to reconstruct Homegrown, but the truth is that not only do we not know the official tracklist, but less than half of the material is even available to us officially or even unofficially!  Young himself only recently performed some of the material live for the first time, in recent decades.  In an effort to retain the best possible soundquality and historical accuracy, my reconstruction of Homegrown will focus only on recordings dating from the mid 1970s, as well as only studio or soundboard recordings.  With this criteria, that reduces the number of available songs to ten, which luckily is enough to make a complete album.  While not precisely the mythical Homegrown, this could be viewed as an approximation culled from the Homegrown sessions, what the album might have sounded like.

The album begins with the title track, “Homegrown”.  For the actual unreleased album, the recording would have been more downbeat and probably Western; since that recording is unavailable, we’ll use the Crazy Horse re-recording dating from November 1975, from the album American Stars n Bars.  Next is the delicate “Little Wing” and majestic “The Old Homestead”, both taken from Hawks and Doves.  Somber “Love is a Rose” from Decade follows, with Side A concluding with “Love Art Blues”; while the unheard Homegrown album version was probably a solo acoustic recording, here we will use the slick full-band Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young live recording from CSNY 1974.  Side B opens with “Star of Bethlehem” from American Stars n Bars.  The studio “Give Me Strength” allegedly sounded much like the eerie “Will To Love”; since unavailable, we will use a live recording from 1976, taken from the GF Rust Chrome Dreams bootleg.  Following is the exquisite “Pardon My Heart” from Zuma and “Deep Forbidden Lake” from Decades.  The Homegrown album version of “White Line” would have been an acoustic duo with Robbie Robertson; since unavailable, we will end the album as it began, with the Crazy Horse re-recording from November 1975, taken from the GF Rush Chrome Dreams bootleg.  

Sources Used:
Neil Young - American Stars n Bars (2003 Reprise CD remaster)
Neil Young – Chrome Dreams (bootleg, 2008 Godfather Records)
Neil Young – Decade (original CD pressing)
Neil Young – Hawks and Doves (2003 Reprise Recerds CD remaster)
Neil Young – Zuma (1993 CD remaster)
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – CSNY 1974 (2014 CD box set)

flac --> wav --> editing in SONAR and Goldwave --> flac encoding via TLH lv8
*md5, artwork and tracknotes included

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Bob Dylan - Eat The Document Soundtrack

Bob Dylan – Eat The Document Soundtrack
(soniclovenoize reconstruction)

Side A:
1.  Tell Me, Momma
2.  I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)
3.  Ballad of a Thin Man
4.  Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues

Side B:
5.  Mr. Tambourine Man
6.  Baby, Let Me Follow You Down
7.  One Too Many Mornings
8.  Like a Rolling Stone

My New Year’s Resolution is to keep this blog updated!  Starting off 2017 is an album that truly never was: the theoretical soundtrack to the unreleased documentary film Eat The Document, which chronicled Bob Dylan’s famous 1966 World Tour, backed by what would become The Band.  A behind-the-scenes look at a controversial and confrontational moment in rock history in which Dylan “went electric” to the great chagrin of his folk-purist audiences, the tour is filled with impassioned and even spiteful performances, a direct response from the jeers from the audience who thought he “sold out”.  This reconstruction compiles the soundboard recordings of the actual, full performances only partially featured on Eat The Document, presented in (mostly) film order, edited to sound as a continuous performance and effectively becoming a unique Bob Dylan live album in itself.   

Bob Dylan’s famed “Electric Trilogy”—1965’s Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and 1966’s Blonde On Blonde—proved that rock music could be intellectual by combining his often abstract poetics into a rock band context.  While obviously a success on record, Dylan slowly tested the waters for a live incarnation of his vision throughout 1965, beginning with his performance at the Newport Folk Festival on July 25th, backed by the Buttersfield Blues Band--a performance allegedly infuriating Pete Seeger who attempted to cut all power to the stage!  Deciding he needed a formal and relatively trustworthy backing band for the following tours, Dylan hired Canadian bar-rockers The Hawks to back him on sporadic gigs throughout 1965.  Although The Hawks—who would later re-title themselves to The Band and see their own success—proved to be an excellent backing band in a live setting, they failed to accommodate Dylan in the studio.  Early sessions for Highway 61 Revisited’ s follow-up in January 1966 proved unusable to Dylan’s standard and he relocated to Nashville to finish the album; only “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)” from the January New York sessions made the album.

Regardless, Dylan regrouped with his road-tested crew, intending to promote his new album Blond On Blonde with a world tour.  Although the tour went underway in February—before the album was even finished!—two new faces slipped into Dylan’s entourage by April.  The first was soundman Richard Alderson, who provided the PAs for the European leg of the World Tour.  Personally invited to make soundboard recordings of that leg of the tour by Dylan (in exchange for assistance in building Alderson’s dream recording studio), Alderson ran the sound while taping almost everything on a trusty mono Nagra recorder.  He was no stranger to this, since he had also recorded Dylan’s set at The Gaslight CafĂ© in 1962. 

The second new face was filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker, who was tasked to film Dylan’s tour—onstage and off—to make a comprehensive document of the turbulent events.  Like Alderson, Pennebaker too was no stranger to Dylan’s inner-circle, as he had recently filmed Dylan’s acoustic European tour the previous year, eventually released as Don’t Look Back, the penultimate statement from Dylan’s live acoustic period.  Just like the previous year, Pennebaker filmed behind the scenes: early morning hangovers in hotel rooms; backstage celebrity jam sessions; furious audience members; an awkward limo ride with John Lennon.  Pennebaker also filmed the live performances themselves, usually on-stage with the man himself, getting extreme close-ups of a jubilant Dylan relishing in challenging the audience, their outrage only fueling him to rock harder.  But unlike Don’t Look Back (in which Dylan himself had little input), Dylan wanted directorial credit and final cut privilege.  After a handshake deal, Pennebaker was slated as cinematographer with the intent of Dylan and his crew editing Pennebaker’s footage for the ABC Television series ABC Stage 67. 

The tour closed with a pair of shows at The Royal Albert Hall on May 26th and 27th, which were professionally recorded to three-track by CBS Records for a possible live album, but it never materialized (within the proceeding 50 years, anyways).  Exhausted, Dylan retired to his new home in Woodstock, NY for a temporary break until a motorcycle crash on July 29th gave him an excuse to retire from the live stage for an indefinite amount of time.  Meanwhile, Pennebaker and Bob Neuwirth compiled their own edit of the footage, tentatively called You Know Something Is Happening.  This edit was rejected by Dylan that summer, and he proceeded to create his own edit of the tour footage with Howard Alk and Gordon Quinn assisting.  Influenced by the surrealism movement, Dylan’s cut of the film relied on no established narrative, featured no complete performances and was assembled in no specific order.  It was titled Eat The Document, a paraphrased quip by music journalist Al Aronowitz suggesting how to approach the documentary medium itself.  Of course, ABC rejected Eat The Document as being incomprehensible to the general audience and has remained unreleased ever since.

Uneaten documents of the 1966 Tour eventually leaked out over time, beginning with bootleg copies of Alderson’s acetate recordings.  Reputation grew of the confrontational tour, which even led to a legendary misappropriation of a legendary show.  The Manchester Free Trade Hall show on May 17th featured a legendary jeer—calling Dylan a “Judas”, in which Dylan responds “You’re a liar!” and tells the band to “Play it fucking loud!”  The initial bootlegger intentionally mislabeled the show as being at the Royal Albert Hall so the records could be stealthy pressed as the album Royal by Albert Hall.  The bootleg’s fame had grown so much that an official recording sourced from CBS’s multitracks was scheduled in the 90s, even perpetuating its mythos by retaining the incorrect venue location as the Royal Albert Hall!  While this pristine stereo mix of the show was scrapped by Dylan, a bootleg sourced from a leaked Sony Records DAT tape appeared in 1995 as Guitars Kissing & The Contemporary Fix.  An official remixed rawer version that featured more of the room ambience was finally approved by Dylan and released as The Bootleg Series Vol 4 in 1998. 

Pennebaker’s footage itself was scarcely seen aside from bootleg videos and private showings of Eat The Document until Martin Scorsese’s 2005 biopic No Direction Home.  Unlike Eat The Document, No Direction Home featured complete performances and even featured the entire Judas/Liar affair.  Finally, the 36-CD box set The 1966 Live Recordings was released in 2016, containing all of Alderson’s surviving soundboard tapes as well as the three shows professionally recorded to three-track by CBS (as well as a handful of audience tapes to represent the missing shows).  Due to the sudden availability of audio recordings paired with the No Direction Home footage, some online sleuths—notably members of the Expecting Rain forums—were able to piece together what specific performances were originally featured on Eat The Document, a task that was previously impossible due to Dylan & Alk’s abstract film editing techniques.  For the first time in fifty years, we are able to piece together an actual soundtrack to this film that never was!

All recordings on this reconstruction are taken from The 1966 Live Recordings, all being Alderson’s fantastic mono soundboard recordings.  The tracks are presented in the order as seen in Eat The Document, with the exception being that “Mr. Tambourine Man” is moved up to open Side B as a sort of acoustic intermission, and “Like a Rolling Stone” is moved down to end the album and create a finale.  Side A opens with the energetic Liverpool 5/14/66 performance of “Tell Me, Momma”, which was also featured on The Band’s 2005 anthology A Musical History.  This is followed by the driving Cardiff 5/11/66 take of “I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)”.  While the film features a montage of three performances of “Ballad of a Thin Man” (from Newcastle, Cardiff and Glasgow), here we will use the entire Newcastle 5/21/66 performance in which Dylan truly accuses the audience itself to be the flabbergasted Mr. Jones.  Concluding the side is the anguished Belfast 5/6/66 performance of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.” 

Side B begins with what we now know as the serene Newcastle performance of “Mr. Tambourine Man”, which merges into the rollicking Liverpool “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down.”  Next is the dusty Belfest performance of “One Too Many Mornings”; since the recording was incomplete, a patch is used from Sheffield 5/16/66 to create a full take of the song which luckily includes a large amount of booing from the audience, followed by Dylan’s taunting.  After an audience member requests his biggest hit, Dylan obliges and the album concludes with the powerful Liverpool “Like a Rolling Stone”.  The resulting album not only fills in the ambiguity left from Eat The Document, but creates a hair-raising live record filled with some of the highlights from his 1966 Tour, worthy of a theoretical release in March 1967 (a place surely taken by Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits).  Although as an imaginary soundtrack to a film that was never released, it's a bit of a stretch... but when you got nothing, you got nothing to lose. 

Lossless Flac (part 1, part 2)

Sources used:
The 1966 Live Recordings (2016 Columbia Records)

flac --> wav --> editing in SONAR and Goldwave --> flac encoding via TLH lv8
*md5, artwork and tracknotes included