Neil Young – Old ways (1985)

He had a ’84 International

In 1984 Neil didn’t release any new studio album. He and Crazy Horse had a recording sessions that didn’t result in any release (yet). Geffen Records sued Neil for not sounding like Neil Young, a lawsuit that ended with Neil winning and Geffen apologising. Later in the autumn of ’84 Neil embarked on a tour with the International Harvesters where he debuted a number of country songs. Now the table was set for “Old ways”, the album Neil wanted to do already in 1983.

This is a full bona fide country album and I love it. It is criminally underrated. Even though this is one of Neil’s worst selling albums it is actually a gem. And beware this is full-blown country, not the ragged country-rock Neil had done before. He is backed by a fantastic band and have guests like country legends Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. Many of the songs are duetts, or with soothing backing vocals. A true collaboration album.

This was also incidentally the first Neil Young album I bought. After discovering Neil via the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young album “4 way street” and his acoustic version of “Cowgirl in the sand” I went out and bought the only Neil Young album I found in the record shop in my small hometown. This was in 1985. I was flabbergasted, I did not like it at all. Mind you, country is for the old souls, I was young and listened to Bowie and Pink Floyd at the time. Luckily I went to record fairs and found a couple of older Neil albums from the seventies, and after that he soon became a favourite of mine.

Nowadays this is one of my favourite albums of Neils. It is strange how the wheel turns.

The album is kicked off with a cover, “The wayward wind” written by Herb Newman and Stan Lebowsky. It is a nice start, but not the strongest on the album. It’s the first of a number of duets on the album, this with Denise Cooper. Waylon joins on guitar. They also have a full string section which gives the song a windy and flowing feeling.

Next on is a fiddle, banjo and jew’s harp stomper, “Get back to the country”, one of two singles from the album. Neil sings together with Waylon and it is such a fun song. One favourite. Next up is duett with Willie, “Are there any more real cowboys?”. This is a slow and exquisite song. The combo of Neil and Willie is true perfection. Willie singing is so heartfelt.

“Once an angel” is a sweet, sweet love song. One of the warmest songs Neil has written. It would have been perfect on “Harvest moon”. Love the backing vocals, oooooh, like som old Elvis tune.

Last song on the first side is “Misfits”, again with the strings and now a duett with Waylon. It has a cool tempo, it’s heavy on the bittersweet. An old story told of space station and some lost souls, feeling like the  times have flown. Very nice indeed.

The second side is as glorious as the first one, if not more so. The first one is “California sunset”, recorded live with a fiddle solo in the beginning. This is a lovesong to the golden state. Neil sings it together with Anthony Crawford who plays the mandolin. Anthony sings in a very light tone, I always thought it was a woman singing. Rufus Thibodeaux on the fiddle is unmistaken at least. Yet another of my favourites. Heck, I might as well come right out and say that all songs on this album are my favourites.

Next up is the title track “Old ways”, an up-tempo fun song. Neil sings together with Waylon. It’s hard to teach a dinosaur a new trick. Indeed.

The economy was getting so bad, I had to lay myself off.

“My boy” is a love song to his son. Neil plays the banjo and he sings with his most sensitive voice. A sweet song, the fathers love.

The last two songs are killers. Both duets with Waylon. “Bound for glory” is the best song on the album. This is Americana galore. Neil and Waylon share verses. They tell a story about a girl with her dog hitchhiking on a desert highway. She gets picked up by a man who has left his family. They seems destined for each other. He had a ’84 International. But still I get the feeling they only get to spend one night. The feeling of this beautiful song is dark. It may be a cousin to Roger Waters “The pros and cons of hitch-hiking” released the year before. Completely different musical styles, but the stories, the feeling.

Last song, oh no! “Where is the highway tonight?” Lovely, lovely song. All in all a great album!

Rating: 9/10

Side A:

  1. The wayward wind
  2. Get back to the country
  3. Are there any more real cowboys?
  4. Once an angel
  5. Misfits

Side B:

  1. California sunset
  2. Old ways
  3. My boy
  4. Bound for glory
  5. Where is the highway tonight?

Best songs: “Get back to the country”, “Are there any more real cowboys?”, “California sunset”, “Bound for glory”, “Where is the highway tonight?”

Released on August 12th, 1985

Media: 1985 vinyl, Holland

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