Neil Young, Dreamin Man Live '92 (Reprise, 2009)
Neil Young is an intense and prolific artist. In 2009 he released 13 CDs, the 11 CD collection Neil Young Archives Vol. 1 1963-1972, a CD of new material, Fork in the Road, and Dreamin Man Live '92, a live solo acoustic collection of the songs on Harvest Moon, his second best-selling CD. PBS aired a documentary in its prestigious American Masters series, Neil Young Don't Be Denied. Young toured extensively, playing concerts in Canada, the U.S., New Zealand and Australia, before working his way through Europe. And, as always, there were the Farm Aid and Bridge School benefit concerts.
On January 29, 2010 Young received the MusiCares person of the year award. And, on March 1st, he closed the Olympic Games, performing "Long May You Run." He has just announced a solo acoustic tour which includes shows at the legendary Ryman Auditorium. The release of Dreamin Man Live '92 is an appropriate prelude to the upcoming tour.
Some might question the release of Dreamin Man Live '92. Apart from the usual cynical explanations, why would Young release a live CD of the same songs found on Harvest Moon? What does it offer to listeners that is not already captured on Harvest Moon? The answer comes in Young's spoken introduction to "Dreamin Man," the first song on Dreamin Man Live '92. Young says, "Just a feeling behind this." Indeed, Dreamin Man Live '92 and Harvest Moon have different feels. For starters, song sequence matters. Making "Dreamin Man" the first song selection and CD title is an obvious signal that Young wants to draw attention to the song. This beautiful song is significantly marred on Harvest Moon by the backup vocals: "he's got a problem." The song works as a first-person confession but falters when it shifts to the third-person perspective. The solo performance precludes the third-person intrusion, and is a classic case of "less is more." And, putting the two environmental songs together, "Natural Beauty" and "War of Man," at the end of the CD strengthens their impact.
Overall, I think the "less" of Dreamin Man Live '92 is better than the "more" of Harvest Moon. There are a freshness and immediacy in live performances that are almost never captured in the studio. Young fans who have Harvest Moon should not overlook Dreamin Man Live '92. And, those new to Neil Young who are too young to remember Harvest Moon should pick up Dreamin Man Live '92 first. It is a truer picture of one of our best songwriters and performers.