Long lauded for the twisted paths of his storied career, these two new reissues from Neil Young’s Geffen period illustrate the far-flung and sometimes over-reaching scope of his artistry. Virtually ignored upon release and not generally considered among his best work, in hindsight they both still offer up some distinct pleasures.
Everybody’s Rockin’ is a straight-up rockabilly album, with Young and his band of the moment The Shocking Pinks romping through some 1950s chestnuts like “Bright Lights, Big City,” (Jimmy Reed) “Mystery Train,” (Elvis Presley) and “Betty Lou’s Got a New Pair of Shoes” (Bobby Freeman). For the most part the run-throughs are spirited and fun, but Young’s voice still sounds a bit awkward and ill-fitting for this material. Also included here are some original tunes in the spirit of the cover choices, like, “Kinda Fonda Wanda,” the title track “Everybody’s Rockin’”, and the only single released from the album, “Wonderin’.” The latter track is the lone tune which stands on its own merits, probably because it sounds the least like a sock-hop standard.
From ‘50s rock, Young took another left turn on his next album, into country music. Old Ways is the twangier companion piece to more-lauded Young classics like Comes a Time and Harvest, but where those efforts mixed country elements into folk and rock songs, here the sound is pure unadorned country. Guests like Waylon Jennings, Bela Fleck, and plenty of Nashville session regulars went a long way towards transforming Young into a honky-tonker on songs like the rousing call-to-musical-arms “Get Back to the Country,” and the title track. Elsewhere, songs like “My Boy,” are easily recognizable as plaintive Young compositions, only here they’re augmented with steel guitar, harmonica, fiddle and banjo.
Seen at the time as unsatisfying forays into musical areas which Young had little real expertise in, the lens of time has mellowed the harsh opinions of these long out of print albums and placed them in the context of a career which has included many more such detours and explorations. Like the material revisited here, that path leads to both the good, the bad, and the indifferent, but one thing remains true-if it is Neil Young, it is always an interesting journey.