Here’s a left field title for you: Songs for Judy. NEIL YOUNG’s latest archival live release is culled from recordings made during his November 1976 tour with Crazy Horse. They’re not on this record, actually, as these tracks are from Neil’s solo opening sets (the band joined him for the second set each night). The recordings here were taken from the board and are very basic – sometimes in mono – with Neil accompanying himself on guitar, piano or banjo and harmonica. There’s a lot going for this release, though, and it would make another worthy addition to your NY discography.
Songs for Judy gets its peculiar title from a song intro Neil did for “Too Far Gone” one night in Atlanta, a rambling but interesting fictional account of meeting Judy Garland backstage before the show. Luckily, Cameron Crowe and photographer Joel Bernstein were taping these shows (they accompanied Neil and band on the tour to cover it for an aborted Rolling Stone article) and so this rap and all the songs here were preserved and now presented to us. The pair recorded the shows, and then for personal use, compiled what they believed were the best takes of each song Neil did on the tour (he didn’t do the same ones every night) and made copies for themselves. Luckily for us, Young has seen it fit for release (finally!) and here we are.
The takes themselves aren’t perfect – which actually is perfect for a Neil Young live release – but they’ve definitely got that mojo you hope for. Songs for Judy’s selections range from the obvious to the obscure (at least at the time), so you get “Mr. Soul” and “Heart of Gold,” but you also get “Human Highway” and “Pocahontas” (which hadn’t been released yet) and every kind of song in between. I really like the renditions of “After the Gold Rush” and “Mellow My Mind,” and a number of others, too. I could kind of do without this version of “A Man Needs a Maid,” what with its synthesizer (?) intro and middle bit, but it does feature a snippet from “Like a Hurricane” which is otherwise not featured here. On the other hand, the audience between songs is sometimes distracting thanks to abrupt transitions (might be unavoidable since these songs came from different shows) and that’s much less nitpicky than my previous statement. The cover art was done by Neil’s gal, Daryl Hannah, and it’s okay. (I’m a critic so I am supposed to criticize!)
Songs for Judy is the second great live release from Neil Young’s camp in the last year and I hope they continue bringing these out. (My review of Roxy–Tonight’s the Night Live is here.) Like, how about a live compilation of the sets he did with Crazy Horse on this ’76 tour? Or, I don’t know, Neil. You choose. Just do.
4/5 (Shakey Pictures 574192-2, 2018)