NEIL YOUNG: SONGS FOR JUDY

December 13th, 2018 | Album reviews

NEIL YOUNG
Songs For Judy
Shakey Pictures / Reprise

Songs for Judy, Neil Young’s latest live release and the first on his Shakey Pictures record label, is a compilation of acoustic solo performances from a 1976 tour, recorded initially for personal enjoyment by Joel Bernstein, Young’s photographer and guitar tech at the time. Following the tour, Bernstein and Cameron Crowe meticulously pored over the tapes, selecting the recordings they deemed best. While a bootleg copy of the tape had been circulating for some time, this is the first time the recordings have been given an official release. Given this personal-touch origin story, it should come as no surprise that the performances are uniformly excellent. Young seems comfortable and loose and the repertoire touches most of his career up to that point. The album also contains the only authorized recorded appearance of “No One Seems to Know,” a melancholy lilting piano tune that, while not necessarily standing with the most memorable of Young’s canon, adds something unique to the release. Given that this album captures Young during a particularly vital time creatively, it’s hard to find fault with any of it but it’s also a little hard to whole-heartedly recommend it to any but the most die hard Neil Young completists. (Don’t worry, there are plenty). Few of the performances on here provide much greater emotional depth than the original (or in a few cases, subsequent) album recordings, although it’s certainly a kick to hear Young’s frequent stage banter, and the synth backing on “A Man Needs a Maid” does provide an answer to the eternal question: What if Neil Young had fronted Tangerine Dream? Songs for Judy will probably be of most interest to dedicated fans who have managed the personal integrity to respect Young’s career-long wish that people not traffic in his bootlegs and who will consequently be thrilled for the opportunity to finally hear this material while financially supporting the artist who created it. Casual fans searching for a more definitive live acoustic document might do well to listen to 2007’s Live at Massey Hall 1971, which presents a more focused and emotionally intense Young—although far be it for me to begrudge the man a good time.

—Tom Child

NEIL YOUNG’S SONGS FOR JUDY IS AVAILABLE ON VINYL ON FRI., DEC. 14, FROM SHAKEY PICTURES / REPRISE.