A Treasure is indeed a treasure, in which the late Ben Keith described these batch of songs. He produced it with Neil, but this record is as much a Neil Young record as it is an International Harvesters record, the band that backed him on tour during the mid-'80s, before the release of Old Ways. The band consisted the most pro of pros from Nashville, some of the best country musicians of all time. They were totally unlike Crazy Horse, they were a well-oiled machine. A Treasure is some of the best country music I've ever heard, and certainly the best country music written and sang by someone who's not an American. This is a snapshot into a weird period in Neil's career, amidst all the crazy musical shape-shifting.
The opening Amber Jean is your standard traditional tune, written for Neil's daughter. It's a great introduction to this album, because it gets the listener acquainted with the key players of the band: Spooner Oldham on piano, Ben Keith on pedal steel and the late Rufus Thibodeaux on fiddle. The rhythm section included Anthony Crawford on banjo (who looked a bit like Nils Lofgren), Tim Drummond on bass and Karl Kimmel on drums. The last few tracks has "Pig" Robbins and Joe Allen on piano and bass respectively. These players all had one thing in common, and that was their musicianship was fucking incredible. I was particularly impressed by Rufus Thibodeaux. His violin playing was some real hot shit.
Are You Ready For The Country? sets things further in motion. It's a simple but exceptional rendition, surpassing that of Harvest's; just add in a fiddle and you got yourself some country. The Harvesters rendition of Flying On The Ground Is Wrong is more beautiful than the already beautiful Buffalo Springfield one. The guitar lead-ins to the verses probably influenced the song, Harvest Moon. Meanwhile this version of Motor City is more honky-tonk and sounds much better than the original one from Reactor. Same for Southern Pacific; it's an epic train song, and the fiddle is played in such a way it sounds like the train horn and the plucking of the banjo like the bells. There's this part during the song where Neil does this amazing screeching effect on his guitar, in unison with the fiddle. At the end the song slows down, just like a train coming to a stop at the station. It's wonderfully executed.
But the best is saved for the last. Grey Riders. Never before released until now. It's one of the best Neil Young songs ever, and you'll know it when you hear it. It's basically a Crazy Horse song disguised as a country song, if that makes any sense. At first listen, I thought it was just another one of those dark, apocalyptic country songs, but than the band suddenly goes into overdrive and Neil lets loose on his Old Black. That guitar riff awesomely pierces your ear and you immediately get the chills. Take a listen to it; if you don't get goosebumps, then something's wrong with you. It's beyond belief; it's "Cortez The Killer" good. Grey fuckin' Riders. Nuclear explosion.
A note on the blu-ray/dvd versions; if you watch that "tech notes" video, you'll know that they took whatever concert footage was available from the internet and synced it up with the soundboard audio. I wasn't expecting much anyway; those parts where there's no video, you just see the album cover (at least the editor made a point to play around with the colors a bit!). Get Back To The Country was a rapid-fire country song, and it's funny to watch the video slightly sped up 1.5x (see my 6th June post titled "A Treasure #1"). Again going back to Grey Riders, it seems like the person with the camera filmed mainly the parts where Neil broke into Crazy Horse mode; there's this cool little moment where he was so into the riff that his hat fell off.
I gotta stress this again; the musicianship on all the songs is unbelievably good. The person that has always stirred me was Ben Keith. He's probably somewhere in heaven right now playing his pedal steel for God. It's sad to know we'll never get to hear Neil play those songs (the ones that had Ben Keith on) again live, and that's a load of his best work. But the man's irreplaceable -- Neil knows it, we know it.
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