So readers we reach the last two of our top 10 americana albums ever. Neil Young, along with Bob Dylan, was nominated more times than any other artist in this process. The fact that different writers chose such a wide range of his albums is testament to the breadth and quality of Young’s catalogue. However, this was the one that made the shortlist and then, I suspect, hoovered up the votes of those that had nominated different Young albums as well as those that had chosen this particular example of his work. In this regard, we could see its high placing in our chart as an endorsement of the artist as much as the particular album. We asked AUK writer Keith Hargreaves, a long term fan, to explain the importance of the album and what makes it such a classic.
In mid-1970 Neil Young released the album that crystallised the singer-songwriter movement and in the same moment spawned the genre that is americana. ‘After The Goldrush’ is that album, based on a failed screenplay by his pal Dean Stockwell it provides a collection of songs that are almost peerless as both a collection and a document of the many faces and facets of the artist known as Shakey. The Rolling Stone review of the time stated at the time “none of the songs here rises above the uniformly dull surface… I find no quality…. I can’t listen to it at all.”– they were wrong, very wrong. ‘After The Goldrush’ remains a perfect entry point to Young’s oeuvre and also one of his most consistent in terms of material and performance. Opening with the gentle, yearning harmonies of ‘Tell Me Why‘, there then follows the title track all stately piano and stirring meditation on the environment. Then the stone classic ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart‘ – melancholy dripped through a to die for chorus. The bruising, angry ‘Southern Man’ finds Young turning his ire on the racism he witnessed whilst touring the Deep South whilst the band go apeshit. Two gentle ballads and then ‘Down Let It Bring You Down‘ and ‘Birds‘ back to back – seven minutes that distils everything anyone needs to know about songs and songwriting. Dark, brooding, innocent, fragile, loose-limbed and broken-hearted. Careers have been built on less. The muscular ‘When You Dance I Can Really Love‘ is the finished template for every Crazy Horse song that followed down the years with Danny Whitten at the top of his game. The album winds down with the beautiful ‘I Believe in You’ and fades away with the throwaway ‘Crippled Creek Ferry‘ with its homespun harmonies.
‘After The Goldrush’ is a hugely important and wonderfully giving album. If you don’t know it – buy it now. If you own it and haven’t played for a while, take 40 minutes to remind yourself of the power of music and the genius of Neil Young.
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