Neil Young - American Stars 'N Bars (1977)
Stars 'N Bars kind of snuck up on me. Maybe it's the album art that I found so very NOT-Neil, but I always thought this was one of his mid-eighties albums. You know, the ones he made just to mess with his record company. Not the case at all.
Turns out Stars 'N Bars actually has some really really solid songs. Apparently it was recorded in four different session spanning a few years. Some with Linda Ronstadt, some with Nicolette Larson, but Crazy Horse all the way through. It's criticized as being "all over the place," and often called "unessential."
I couldn't disagree more. There's a lot of value to be had on this record. Obviously the cornerstone is Like a Hurricane, a fan-favorite which Neil still plays at concerts (hoping to hear it Monday at the Barclay's Center.) And yes, that song is amazing.
But don't disregard the rest of this album.
I find listening to this album all the way through really enjoyable. "The Old Country Waltz" is a great lead-off track, with sweet backing vocals from Larson and Ronstadt, not to mention a pretty rad fiddle part.
From there, it's a nice mix. The thumping "Saddle Up the Palomino," the light, rolling "Hey Babe," and then what might be my favorite track, "Star of Bethlehem." It's actually really nice to hear these songs demonstrate a range of styles while still within the familiar sonic world of Neil. It's like looking at a family of siblings where every kid looks different, but they all share at least one feature with another.
So smush your face down on your desk a la Neil on the album cover and enjoy "American Stars 'N Bars." That's what I'll be doing this afternoon.
[ mp3 ] Neil Young - The Old Country Waltz
[ mp3 ] Neil Young - Star of Bethlehem