Another Gem From a Musical Genius
Very few songwriters have reached the heights that Neil Young has. The world has been blessed by his art for almost 50 years, whether as a member of Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Crazy Horse, or simply as a solo artist. He’s recorded and released 35 of the latter, each of which is unique and wonderful in its own way, most recently 2016’s Peace Trail.
However, now in 2017, Young elected to move back in time rather than forwards by releasing Hitchhiker, a collection of raw demos originally recorded in 1976 that he intended to be a studio album, but that his record label refused to put out in its minimalist form. They requested Young record the songs with a backing band, and after Young refused, the songs were shelved.
The material is familiar, as eight of the album’s ten songs were re-recorded and released on later albums (only “Hawaii” and “Give Me Strength” are previously unreleased). All of these are presented in the most basic sense: Young’s trembling yet powerful voice over an acoustic guitar, piano or harmonica. Thus, they all contain Young’s signature blend of folk, country, bluegrass, and pop, a combination that’s served him well for a long time.
What’s truly separated Young apart from his peers, however, is his lyrical ability. He does an incredible job of weaving stories and creating narratives for the listener, and painting incredibly specific canvases of thought. Look no further than “Pocahontas,” a song about both the story of the character and Young hoping to meet her someday (more specifically, sleep with her). Two tracks stand out from the others, though. The first is “Campaigner,” in which Young accesses the other thing he’s known for — political activism. It’s a biting criticism about Nixon, and in even the later years Young is not afraid to speak his mind politically. The best track, though, is the title track, “Hitchhiker.” It’s a deeply personal story of a man, most likely himself, detailing his own experiences with different drugs. Through the song there are references to hash, amphetamines, Valium (a prescription opiate), cocaine, and marijuana, all at different points in his life. It takes a lot of guts to self-examine oneself in such a way, but he does so beautifully.
On Hitchhiker, longtime fans will love to hear earlier versions of future hits, as well as experience two new gems. Those who aren’t as familiar with Young’s work, however, will enjoy the fact that his deep cuts are just as good as his most popular tracks. Either way, it’s a wonderful look into the mind of a songwriting genius for anyone who gives the album a listen.