I needed some new ammunition for my Zen so I brought with me from Fort Myers an old CD to add to my music collection. Because of a recent guitar session with one of photographers Damien Espinoza, I grabbed Neil Young's "Freedom" from the storage cabinet and stuck it in my bag.
Today I finally ripped the tunes from the disc and decided to take some time to listen to the album. I probably hadn't really given it a good listen in a decade or so. It brought back a flood of memories. Given the context of the times when this album came out, it truly is a masterpiece.
Neil had been putting out a lot of pedestrian material through much of the 1980's. He zig-zagged his way through the decade bouncing from computer music, to country, to rockabilly, and even a big band. Each album had moments, but none of them delivered, that is until 1989's "Freedom."
The first time I listened to it was on a disc player on headsets while sitting in the back of a minivan driving to St. George, Utah. The music tore right through my head and my heart, from the epic "Rock in the Free World," to the gritty "No More," to his offbeat cover of "Broadway" and the now classic "Wrecking Ball." It's a monster album. It was so good I went out and bought the guitar book for it even though at the time I didn't play the guitar. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew it would come in handy and it took a few years but it did.
"Freedom" heralded a trio of epic studio albums over the next three years. The unvarnished "Ragged Glory" followed in 1990. A stunning live album "Arc/Weld" followed in 91 and for many fans the crown jewel came with 92's "Harvest Moon." From 1980 to 1988 Young's music was uneven at best so it's impossible to fully explain how he could suddenly find his form and create such four incredible albums. It mirrors to some extent Bob Dylan's lost decade which started in 1986 with the forgettable "Knocked Out Loaded" and ended in 1997 with the his re-emergence thanks to Daniel Lanois and his masterpiece "Time Out of Mind."
Neil's had some epic television performances, especially his Saturday Night Live appearance in 89 when he played "RITFW" and a mind blowing version of "No More." But I remember having the hairs on my arms stand up when I watched him live on MTV in 1992 when he delivered this gem with Pearl Jam.
By the way, give "Mirror Ball" a listen. Neil and Pearl Jam together were nothing less than amazing.