Sunday, April 27, 2014

Late Night Listening: A Letter Home

I've been a Neil Young fan for forty-five years now.

But I have to confess I'm still shaking my head after multiple playings of Neil Young's new album A Letter Home, thus far available only on vinyl.

The album is comprised entirely of cover songs, including "Crazy," "On the Road Again," "Reason to Believe," "Girl from the North Country," "If You Could Read My Mind," and "My Hometown," among other songs.  Okay, the concept sounds interesting: one of the most distinctive voices and stylists in music offering his take of songs by other songwriters. Hey, his versions of  "Oh Lonesome Me" and "Four Strong Winds" were brilliant, so this should be great, right?

Should be, but it isn't.

Neil decided to record the entire album in a restored 1947 Voice-o-Graph vinyl recording booth that Jack White has in his record store. This device wasn't state of the art in 1947, and it most certainly isn't state of the art now; the sonic quality is inferior to most 1970s bootlegs, and it makes those early 1970s 8-tracks we barely tolerated back then seem like the epitome of audio technology in comparison. I can't figure out how the man who can ask his fans to spend hundreds of dollars to support his Pono pipe-dream (yet another file format that is supposed to offer high-resolution audio quality, but is incompatible with existing players) while displaying such disrespect for his fans by putting out this sloppy album recorded in absolutely the worst way possible (and yet he still charges a premium price for it, of course).

And it's not just the sound quality that is disappointing. The performances themselves seem like throwaways. I'm reminded of all those sloppy cover versions the Beatles did during the Let It Be sessions--songs that really weren't intended for release as finished pieces of music. Apparently Neil Young decided that this was good enough for his fans, though.

Ultimately, A Letter Home is an audio train wreck--badly recorded, poorly performed, and inadequately reproduced. This letter should be marked "return to sender."

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