Once again, Neil Young goes digging through his old performances and emerges with another golden nugget. Songs For Judy, compiles 23 tracks from the acoustic sets of his 18-date U.S. tour with Crazy Horse in 1976.
Technically, this isn’t among his Archive Series but an official release of the long-bootlegged “The Bernstein Tapes” on Young’s new imprint Shakey Pictures Records, distributed by longtime label Reprise Records, but in a different running order. The final product contains a clarity that’s stellar. It gives the impression that you are sitting in the front row.
As the legend goes, Joel Bernstein, acting as Young’s guitar tech, received a soundboard patch to listen to the ongoing show and proceeded to tape them for personal use. After the tour ended he got together with Rolling Stone writer Cameron Crowe who had traveled with Young during that period and with an attention to performance and rarity created their own best-of collection from these shows. A couple copies of the meticulously-made recordings were given to roadies, one of which was lost and subsequently made it to the bootleg shelves and trading sites.
Already displaying a maturity as a songwriter in his 20s, Young then used a combination of commercial success and a seemingly never-ending dance with his creative muse as the impetus to do whatever he pleased in his 30s and beyond. With a marijuana haze permeating his performances he woozily moves from acoustic guitar, piano, organ and banjo with occasional harmonica solos thrown into the proceedings. Young returns to his Buffalo Springfield days on “Mr. Soul” and 1968 solo debut with “Here We Are in the Years” and “The Old Laughing Lady,” which transitions into “Guilty Train” even though it is not credited on the album’s tracklist. “A Man Needs a Maid” opens with an organ solo similar to the intro of the electric “Like a Hurricane” then transitions to the tranquility of a house that’s become a home as Young switches over to piano.
These spellbinding tracks show Young to be confident and searching, revisiting the material of projects past and giving shape to ones that will eventually make it on to future albums – Pocahontas (1979), White Line (1990) and Give Me Strength (2017), while No One Seems to Know finally sees the light of day in an official release.
In the notes for Songs For Judy Bernstein beckons Crowe to come on over and finally get to work on a compilation of Crazy Horse’s electric sets. Can’t wait.