Sunday, August 31, 2014

Neil Young and Crazy Horse-'Long Ago In the Museum'-1976 LP Zuma

Imagine two outstretched arms, extracting themselves from a dirty roadside ditch, fingertips dug into the flesh of the earth pulling a hidden body out into the blinding sunlight. This is the imagry representing Neil Young and Crazy Horse's 1976 LP Zuma, recorded following Young's so called mid 1970's 'ditch trilogy', comprised of the records, Time Fades Away, Tonight's the Night and On the Beach and respectively recorded between 1973-1974.

In addition to collecting some of Young's most revolutionary and long standing music, the aforementioned records also set out to shatter the illusions and myths that had surrounded Young since the beginning of his career. The music was an infected flesh wound, some fans had to look away, some listeners opened the door and decended to the basement. During this prolific era, there was also a failed attempt at recording an LP with CSNY, as well as a huge amount of Young music that being recorded but remained shelved. Right up to current days this music has yet to see an official release.

Young was peaking as an artist, suffering as a person and searching for for new ways of expressing his art, even developing films for his restless mind.  Following these creatively hectic days, Young reunited and retooled 'Crazy Horse' for the subject of this 'rock room' rant, 1976's LP Zuma. The original rhythm section of Ralph Molina and Billy Talbot was supplemented by guitarist Frank Sampedro who stepped in for, but never replaced Danny Whitten who was lost to a drug overdose in 1972 and was the inspiration of 1974's Tonight's the Night. The group had last recorded with Young during sessions for 1970's After the Gold Rush and their street cowboy punk attitude was the perfect tonic for Young's musical ill regarding a band..

This record would eventually become responsible for permanently casting the 'Crazy Horse' sound and providing Young with his most trust worthy and surefooted medium of musical dissemination. The band's rough hewn and gritty attitude locked in puzzle piece syncopation with Young's artistic sensibilities, allowing him a freedom and challenging creative outlet. The 'Horse' may have been simple, but they were always real. Raw electric emotion has always mattered to Young more than musical showboating and self important ideals. Zuma would develop into a representation of Young's new direction, a swinging electric bar band armed for sonic assaults and based in melody and big guitars.  The conglomerate of compositions and ideas Young had strewn around his mind collided with a group hungry to back him. The results are documented as explosive and definitive, The band would stand witness to these ideas providing a charged and quaking musical backdrop. The band equal to a well oiled road machine of unparalleled power, rattling windows as it travels down the back roads, pipes exposed.


The album opens with the country thunder of 'Don't Cry No Tears', a song developed from a melody that had been rebounding around Young's head since he was a youth. The track introduces as well as encapsulates the 'Crazy Horse' sound, illustrating a creaky swinging rhythm and weaving dual guitars that glistening with a chrome luster. Edgy instrumentation and wildflower melodies, the perfect harmonious combination for Young's eclectic band of brothers..

'Dangerbird' is the song the truly reveals what the 'Horse' was truly about and what they would become, to be illustrated in full glory on 1978's Rust Never Sleeps. Unfortunately faded out on the official LP release, the song illicits memories of the formative Horse excursions such as 'Cowgirl In the Sand' and foreshadows the upcoming musical travelogues like 'Cortez the Killer'. The song reveals itself on a bass pulse and feedback note, its slow metallic dirge opposing the imagery of flight. The first solo flaps furiously over scratchy guitar support, Young's notes quaking with a nervous vibrato. The music fights gravity, struggling to become airborne, its silvery sonic streaks shedding weight, aiding its levitation. Young's second solo soars in spite of being made of solid stone, lifting, then finally fracturing into a dizzying array of quaking riffs.

The following song, 'Pardon My Heart' lowers the dynamic with an acoustic rendition of a track that had been floating around Young's songbook since early 1974. He plays all of the instruments on this recording except for bass guitar which is played by Tim Drummond. Young's vocals are picture perfect, at one point answering his own plaintive backing calls. Reminiscent of the future Young composition, 'Will To Love' in its recording approach and vibe, I will always classify 'Pardon My Heart' as a 'lost' classic.

"Lookin For A Love 'is a cloudy ray of sunlight bottled inside a lean melodic country lilt. What sounds to me like Young's glorious Gretch White Falcon, the notes ring out in harmonic intercourse with Sampredro's crisply picked rhythm. The Horse play it straight and let the well traveled melody lines carry all of the heavy lifting. The last tracks allow for a nice respite from the stampeding and anxious Horse.

The first side of the record concludes with the quintessentially Neil Young, 'Barstool Blues'. In my humble opinion one of the finest tracks on the record, 'Barstool's' lyrics flash fleeting spectral glimpses of Danny Witten next to the bar, the passing scent of Young love interest Carrie Snodgrass and the blurred imagery of a darkened head in hand establishment. The vocals are live and upfront on this studio track, and the music reminisces as well as forebodes. Young's shaky solos sing in a voice that match his own rattling throat. Slam the door, take a gulp and get rowdy for this one.
Side two opens in audio verite' fashion with the sludgy beginning of 'Stupid Girl' that slickly shifts into double time as the verses begin. The blunt accusations of 'Stupid Girl' are slightly disconcerting, but brutally honest and that's why we love Neil. The song spits out insult on a dry bobbing lick and concludes on a highly lyrical solo of contrasting beauty and forgiveness.


'Drive Back' follows and ups the intensity with abrasive soloing and late in the evening back road tire scorching. The song wants to lend a feisty hand of encouragement but cannot help but display its clandestine knife edge. This is the place where the 'Crazy Horse' plays best, there is the overwhelming smell of gasoline, Poncho is smoking a cigarette and the band is holding a burnt match.

The definitive 'Neil Young and Crazy Horse' epic 'Cortez the Killer' comes next, its historic genesis born from this record. The song would soon be extended and twisted into smouldering heaps on later concert tours, but here it sits in its purest unadulterated form. The introduction of the song slowly bobs past three minutes on Young's patient exploration of the watery theme. Young reportedly built the song based on a history lesson learned at at school, the lyrics both tell a tale and portray a heavy mood. The songs basic structure is custom build for expansion and development through extended guitar soloing. A well deserving and recognizable classic.

Always the master of moods and contrasts, the LP gently concludes with David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash making an appearance for the airy 'Through My Sails'. Unable to get it together for their own LP, Young must have not wanted to waste the possibilities presented in this beautiful song. A sweet, even optimistic composition from Young, closes the door on one era in his career, revealing a time where the 'Horse' would become old dependable and CSN quite dispensable.

Zuma is a record that further entrenched Neil Young's electric identity by providing another, yet familiar avenue for his creative expressions. The LP would prove to be a formative foundation in the explosive performances yet to come from Young and the Horse. The rest of the 1970's would find Young morphing yet again into uncharted musical realms, but always having the 'Horse' in the stable awaiting his return. This continued gravitation back to a comfortable pair of sonic shoes for Young would remain the catalyst for the groups deep and lasting musical relationships. These enduring friendships, forged deeply during the recording of Zuma, continue right on into the present day.

Dangerbird-Zuma

Cortez the Killer-Zuma

Through My Sails-Zuma

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