The Jayhawks – ‘Tomorrow The Green Grass’

By the summer of ’95 and over a year into my MVC career I’d claimed the lofty title of assistant manager. Check me. The previous management team were big on country, and whilst Dwight Yoakam and Garth Brooks did little for me, and Shania Twain and Billy Ray Cyrus even less (nothing), there were other artists who the more alt or folk side of that road who grabbed my attention. Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, Shelby Lynne I’d enjoy, but the album I fell for was Tomorrow The Green Grass by The Jayhawks.

From the first minute of the opening track Blue, the appeal of Tomorrow The Green Grass is all there. Glorious harmonies, stunning melodies and a mellow, rootsy guitar-based groove on top of reflective and introspective lyrics…

“Where have all my friends gone
They’ve all disappeared
Turned around maybe one day
You’re all that was there
Stood by on believing
Stood by on my own
Always thought I was someone
Turned out I was wrong”

The constant highlight is the perfect vocal harmony between Mark Olson and Gary Louris. I’d love singing along, alternating harmonies, partly because they sounded so gorgeous and also because the songs were so goddam good; downbeat but uplifting and perfectly produced with piano and strings accompanying the orchestra of guitars. The producer was a dude. George Drakoulias was an A&R man for Def Jam, discovering The Beastie Boys and L.L Cool J. He signed and produced The Black Crowes as well as Primal Scream, Tom Petty and a lengthy list as eclectic as they come.

The guitar solos are another standout, particularly on Miss Williams’ Guitar and the rousing closer Ten Little Kids; distorted and soulful but never overdone. But as is my way it was the more lyrically melancholy and heavy-hearted that grabbed me the most. Blue was great opener, but Two Hearts is the album’s emotional peak if only for the sad as hell ‘I’m lonely, I’m lonely, I’m lonely too.”

The album’s predecessor Hollywood Town Hall and its follow up Sound Of Lies come close to matching Tomorrow The Green Grass, the latter just missing the perfect harmonies following Olsen’s departure. Would I have ever heard The Jayhawks if I wasn’t working in a record shop? Almost certainly not. It almost (definitely) makes the hat-trick of redundancies worth it.

Neil Young – ‘After The Goldrush’

Returning from the States I had most definitely caught a dose of wanderlust. I had no money, so working abroad was my only option. Mi amigo Simon was a Thomson rep, but whilst he was a natural entertainer I was a relative introvert. But I could dabble in French and I knew how to be nice to people, so a job as a rep for Keycamp in France was for me. Those six months turned out to be more fun than should really be allowed, sharing a campsite on Vias Plage with dozens of other reps and hundreds of friendly punters. But best of all I discovered three of my all time favourite albums.

Whilst it was through a girlfriend that I found these albums, I can look and listen back with no attached emotion. We had two seasons in the sun, a winter in Dublin and a month or so in Paris and I can very happily say, thank you for the music. Before we met I spent a few months working hard and partying harder. The most listened to album by far was Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik. We loved it and did the socks on cocks thing, because. But then peak season hit, and as the sun was at full strength with it came the start of a near thirty-year love affair with Neil Young. I heard After The Goldrush.

Neil Young has one of those voices. And yes, I loved it. Give me sentiment, give me sincerity, give me honesty and most of all hit my emotions with as much ferocity and ruthlessness as your words and music can muster. With After The Goldrush Neil Young delivered that with beautiful, unmerciful aplomb. Vocally, anguish reigns. That high-pitched, pained and tortured inflection adds huge weight to an album of angst, protest, social comment and fragile, tender love.

Tell Me Why is a great opener, but when the title track starts you know you’re going to be in deep. With Neil Young it’s all about the feel, and instantly it felt like an album to devour, with enough lyrical obscurity to provoke the imagination. But, as was my leaning, the more sombre and sorrowful the song, the more I loved it. There I was, partying my ass of in France and totally obsessing over something so beautifully, incredibly down.

“Someone should call him
And see if he can come out
Try to lose the down that he’s found
But only love can break your heart
Try to be sure right from the start
Yes, only love can break your heart
What if your world should fall apart?”

– Only Love Can Break Your Heart

“Everybody’s going out and having fun
I’m just a fool for staying home and having none
I can’t get over how she set me free
Oh, lonesome me”

– Oh Lonesome Me,

“When you see me
Fly away without you
Shadow on the things you know
Feathers fall around you
And show you the way to go
It’s over, it’s over”

– Birds

With Neil Young living in Topanga Canyon, the nearby Laurel Canyon vibe is everywhere, with an instrumental sparsity bringing the lyrics to the fore. An 18-year old Nils Lofgren was brought in to add guitar and piano, adding magic with little experience but perfect musical smarts, and as with most of Neil Young’s classic early ‘70s work everything feels so loose, so musically free and easy. It’s only Young’s trademark lead guitar that shows signs of strain, no more so than in his castigation of Southern racism and slavery’s disgusting legacy in Southern Man.

If there’s a more sublime and perfectly pained sound than Neil Young’s voice and guitar, I’m yet to hear it, and if there’s a more beautiful album than After The Goldrush, I’m yet to hear that too.