This is a rather magical album: Young rolls up to a studio in 1976, on a night of the full moon, and plays some songs, accompanied only by weed and beer. Some songs go on to be classics, two have not been released before.
It’s a got a bit of Clint Eastwood Man With No Name air of mystery about it, an evening captured live from the depths of history. There is chat before and after some of the songs, one stoned giggle and a sense of companionship.
The simplicity of the songs, some of which became staples of his set, means you can appreciate the lyrics. Bob Dylan gets a lot of credit for his words, but no-one can tell a story like Young.
“Daddy’s gone / My brother’s out hunting in the mountains / Big John’s been drinking since the river took Emmy-Lou” tells all you need to know about a life in a frontier river town, while “Think of me / As one you’d never figured / Would fade away so young / With so much left undone” is as sad as any lyric written. (Both Powderfinger of course).
Pocahontas opens the album — so the first words on the CD are “Aurora borealis”, itself a feat — whose lyrics skip from history (“They killed us in our tepee / And they cut our women down”) to nostalgia for America’s past (“In the homeland / We’ve never seen”) to a fictional present with Pocahontas, the narrator and Marlon Brando in the Astrodome, all via the ambiguous wish “To sleep with Pocahontas / And find out how she felt”.
Campaigner’s “Where even Richard Nixon has got soul” was thrown into new light by a podcast we heard last week: Tricky Dicky really did have soul, and the transcribed White House tapes show that one of the few people he did not interrupt was Little Richard.
Hitchhiker contains a pair of never-before-released songs: Hawaii and Give Me Strength.
Wikipedia reports that the material was considered to be no more than a collection of demos, not fit for release, at the time. With history to judge, it’s an excellent CD; not one of his best but certainly in the chasing bunch.