This album by Neil Young (formerly of the Buffalo Springfield) and various friends is a flowing tributary from the over-all Springfield river of twangs, breathless vocals and slim yet stout instrumentation. Especially vivid is Young’s sense of melancholy and the ingenious clusters of images he employs in his lyrics (printed in full). In particular, one could very easily view this disc as an extension of Young’s work on the Buffalo Springfield Again album, especially his compositions “Expecting to Fly” and the gaping “Broken Arrow.” which closes the album.
This solo disc opens with “The Emperor of Wyoming,” an instrumental which sets the tone musically for the side in a high-flying yet whining sort of way. It has that definite Springfieldian touch to it like wind between rocks or the people you see in dreams.
“The Loner” is a contemporary lament that features a nice blending of Neil’s guitar with strings in non-obtrusive fashion, allowing Young’s balanced ice-pick vocal to chip effectively at the listener. The stance and imagery are much the same as in the earlier “Expecting to Fly.”
The next two selections are pieces of the same puzzle. “If I Could Have Her Tonight” is a slow, crystal-like effort. It features a heavy drum line, Byrds-like guitar and mellow lyrics that all together add up to that unique sense of melancholy yet joy in melancholy which the Springfield captured so well and which Young just continues doing. Like standing in all four corners of the night. “I’ve Been Waiting for You” is an extension of the theme, with a tinkly piano and organ.
The side ends with a longish song entitled “The Old Laughing Lady” that is so close to, yet so far apart from, Young’s earlier song “Broken Arrow.” A quivering piano and a halting string section move around and around the melody line, here peeking between his words, there showing sky between his phrasings. The two pieces also have a series of mood/tone changes between verses — the strings, for instance, get increasingly lusher and fuller in “Laughing Lady.” The fade-out piano chord here is similar to the heartbeat fade-out on the earlier piece. The main difference between the two can be tersely put: the latter piece is tighter, more mature and has more of the quiet explosion to it that Young obviously intends.
The second side opens with a diminutive Jack Nitzsche piece entitled “String Quarter From Whiskey Boot Hill.” It is a slow, deliberate ethereal introduction to Neil’s vocal on “Here We Are in the Years.” Musically the piece is string-dominated and very lush and full with Neil’s voice incising between — the scraping fade-out says it all.
“The Last Trip to Tulsa” closes the album. It is nine minutes long and is the most stylistic, anti-Springfield piece on the album. Here we have only Young’s chameleon voice and guitar — no strings, drums or piano. It proceeds to build from verse to verse — the vocal gets wider, the guitar more abandoned, more wanton. An innovative close to, in many ways, a delightful reprise of that Springfield sound done a new way.