Neil Young – Noise & Flowers & Toast: A 2022 Overview

Is it possible to have too much Neil Young? Neil seems to be testing the patience (and bank accounts) of his fiercest fans with a barrage of releases including a 50th anniversary edition of Harvest and brand new music with Crazy Horse.

The 13th Floor’s Marty Duda has been holed up in front of his stereo cranking up the most recent releases that Neil has been cranking out. So today we review:

Harvest – Neil Young: 50th Anniversary Edition (released December 2nd)

World Record – Neil Young With Crazy Horse (released November 18th)

Noise & Flowers – Neil Young + Promise Of The Real (released August 5th)

Toast – Neil Young with Crazy Horse (released July 8th)

Alright…deep breath…let’s start with Harvest.

Originally released February 1, 192, Harvest is no doubt Neil’s most beloved solo album featuring favourites like Old Man, The Needle And The Damage Done, Are You Ready For The Country and Heart Of Gold and contributions by Crosby, Stills and Nash along with James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt and the London Symphony Orchestra.

Chances are, if you’re reading this, you don’t have to be sold on the quality of Harvest.

Fun fact: Harvest holds the title: Best Selling Album Ever in France…take that Serge.

So, do you need this new 50th anniversary edition?

Well, need is a strong word, but one that Neil fans like myself can easily over use.

The package includes the original album, 3 outtakes (2 previously unreleased), new liner notes and photos plus two DVDs (remember them?)…BBC In Concert, a 7-song live set recorded at the Royal Albert Hall on February 23, 1971 and most keenly anticipated…Harvest Time, a two-hour documentary directed by Shakey himself and shot during the making of Harvest but never seen until now.

We catch Neil and the Stray Gators at his home studio in California (The Barn), at Barking Town Hall in London and in Nashville, Tennessee.

Chances are, only the faithful will want to sit through the full two hours of this loose, roughly shot and edited doco, but there are pleasures here for the patient.

I enjoyed watching Neil work with Graham Nash and Stephen Stills and then David Crosby and Stills on their backing vocals, catching these sometimes temperamental personalities hanging, singing and enjoying each other’s company.

The other highlight was watching Neil (literally) sit in with the London Philharmonic as they cut A Man Needs A Maid and There’s A World.   There’s Neil sitting at a piano with a full orchestra behind him and the conductor (David Meecham) trying to sync up to Neil’s
“unorthodox” live performance. Its incredible that it actually worked especially given there was no digital hanky panky used to “fix” anything.

Ok, now let’s check out World Record, the newest music on offer from Neil and the Horse (Frank Sampedro has been put out to pasture with Nils Lofgren taking over).

Co-produced with Rick Rubin, World Record is something of a mixed bag. Released over three sides of vinyl, the first nine songs are OK, but thanks to Neil’s need to use “unheard combinations of instruments” it sounds disjointed.  However, the 15-minute track Chevrolet is a real winner, sounding like classic Crazy Horse.

Then there is Noise & Flowers, a double live album recorded with Promise Of The Real, featuring Willie’s boys, Lukas and Micah Nelson. For the Neil newcomer, this can serve as a fine entry point as it features excellent live versions of essential Neil tunes such as Helpless, Rockin’ In The Free World, Comes A Time, Mr. Soul, Alabama, etc.

The band sounds vital and Neil is in top form…his long time manager Elliot Roberts died just a couple of weeks before they hit the road and Young gives it his all here.

Highly recommended if you need more classic Neil.

Finally, we have Toast.

Originally recorded way back in 2000-2001, the album was put on the back-burner until now. After giving it a spin, its clear the quality of the music wasn’t the reason, but rather the personal nature of the songs.

Where did all the feelings go?
What about that happy glow?
Was that so long ago
When we were first in love?

The lyrics to How Ya Doin’? indicate that Neil and his longtime marriage to Pegi was on the rocks. Indeed, they divorced in 2004. Now, enough time has passed (Pegi died in 2019, Neil remarried (to Daryl Hannah) in 2018) to put these song out there.

So, this is a very personal album. It is also a very good album, featuring Crazy Horse (with Pancho)and seven songs that stand up to the best of Neil’s work (even if opener Quit sounds a bit like Tie A Yellow Ribbon).

Standing In The Light Of Love is a slashing rocker and Gateway Of Love has cruisy vibe and plenty of twang.

The album closes with a bluesy Boom Boom Boom, proving that Neil’s leftovers are better than most artists’ main course.

Keep checking the Neil Young Archive as he’s probably released three more albums in the time it took me to write this!

Marty Duda