BY RON HART
“The CD should be five dollars and the LP should be seven, not 17 and 22,” commented a friend of mine who owns a record shop to a post of mine on Facebook about Neil Young’s A Letter Home. “At least Neil completists wouldn’t feel totally ripped off.”
He does make an incredibly valid point. Originally released on vinyl via Jack White’s Third Man label, Young’s latest solo album saw old Neil cut 11 of his favorite songs inside the only known functional Voice-O-Graph booth in the world located at Third Man in Nashville. And, if you are a diehard Young fan like myself, the concept of the Canadian rock icon covering the likes of Bob Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country”, Bert Jansch’s “Needle of Death” and Bruce Springsteen’s “My Hometown” through a machine that makes him sound like an old Blind Willie McTell or Charley Patton 78 is just cool beyond words.
Luckily, for Neil and White, the trick is pulled off in spades, especially when you get to the haunting takes on Phil Ochs’ “Changes” and Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind”, where Young’s voice permeates through the crackle and pop of the antiquated technology of the Voice-O-Graph’s primitive means of cutting wax before him in the booth.
However, I must concur with my proprietor pal in his sentiments about the price for A Letter Home. Maybe if Young had re-cut the material from one of his great “lost” albums like Chrome Dreams, Homegrown or Oceanside/Countryside, or perhaps even some numbers from Third Man’s controversial Paramount Records box set, one can see the logic in sending the record off to retail at full cost. And shoot, I’d rather shell out 18 bucks for this album than such oughties atrocities Young has doled out to his fanbase like Living With War and Fork in the Road.
But one should not have to turn in anywhere from one-to-two-hours of wages to hear the old coot warble out Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again”, regardless of how novel the way by which he crafted it.
DOWNLOAD: “Changes,” “Needle of Death,” “My Hometown”