Sound — 10
This is Neil Young's second studio album and with the backing band Crazy Horse which was recorded from January through March 1969 and then released on May 14, 1969. The band Crazy Horse consisted of Danny Whitten (guitar and vocals), Billy Talbot (bass guitar), and Ralph Molina (drums, vocals). Crazy Horse themselves were a separate band on their own that rose to some more prominence because of Neil Young using them as a backing band, seeing the amount of skill they had. Danny Whitten as a guitarist would only be a temporary member of the band Crazy Horse but was with the band at the time, the main lineup is a trio of Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina, and Frank Sampedro with other members who would appear on and off.
Crazy Horse themselves have no consistent lineup with the only remaining original members being Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina they pretty much worked as a backing rhythm section to entirely different groups of musicians over the years on different albums they've released. Neil Young had met them in Los Angeles and pulled three of these members from a local band called "The Rockets" who were a struggling band. Their main thing that they are known for is being Neil Young's backing band and they started on this album. In the future they would be co-credited on numerous Neil Yong albums; eleven studio albums with numerous live albums being billed as Neil Young & Crazy Horse. Bobby Notkoff appears on violin on this album on "Running Dry" and Robin Lane offers vocal harmony on "Round and Round."
This album really serves as a creative outlet for young and has a similar vibe to his debut solo album (having been released four months after his first) but with a more hard rock mixture of folk with blues rock and even some hints of psychedelia which was more than common during the time the album was recorded, it doesn't bear any strong relations or tendencies in that quality but hints in certain long jamming tracks that just shine through in the album and give it that memorable pulchritudinous aspect to the album. Neil young does provide almost all of the main vocals but there are backings and the guest singer I mentioned (Robin Lane), but of course the most noteworthy is the ominous lead vocals of Neil Young, it has a sad and higher key that just fits in perfectly to the moody and quite pensive melodies played on tracks here. There are sunnier sides that contrast and have a more sanguine folk feel. I really do find the overall producing and quality in performance and caliber all around having the performances reciprocate with the audio quality on here available, the original vinyl mastering does have a superior sound as usual but the CD mp3 format here is actually impressive compared to most at least on the issue I received which is the same original Reprise label as the pressing of the vinyl. The album offers a livelier and more assured song repertoire but still has those folk leanings as I mentioned on a few tracks and these recordings do carry a rawer and more real type of music that isn't really meant to meat perfection but still does in all of its roughness.
Lyrics — 10
The release of "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" is a milestone in a sense because of it being Neil Young's period of transition that would define him as a rock and roll artist. Three songs on the album would become standards of Neil Young that he would perform later on; "Cinnamon Girl," "Down by the River," and "Cowgirl in the Sand." Neil Young used a temporary scratch vocal that he sang through a low quality talk-back microphone on the mixing board, with no effects such as reverb, which I actually admire; he just kept a lot of things simple and as organic as possible which made him sound just like himself in all his splendor but this can only be heard on the original album. These songs have deliberately been written in this wholesome natural state that hasn't been tampered with at all. Stylistically it fits in with the folk rock and country rock of its day, but with a rough garage edge, driven by the thin, buzzing guitars of Young and Whitten that just rage on throughout the long interlude instrumental sections of key tracks like, "Cowgirl in the Sand" and "Down by the River."
The lyrics do feel a bit incomplete at times but still quite aloof and zen with their descriptions that build up an intensity of this atmosphere that has an emanation of something with an underlying sorrow. The mournful depressive tracks are quite powerful along with the way Neil plays his guitar and solos, it all comes together and tries to remonstrate something like the whole depressing sorrow and evil of the world itself. There is definitely something emotionally profound going on here in the music and the way the tones and atmospheric flavors are for the most part mournful but still beautiful and more energetic at the same time leaving in plenty of room for great soloing. "Cinnamon Girl" brings buoyancy and then ends with this amazing guitar sequence followed by harmonics. There is the more country and roots rock oriented song named after the album "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" with a more rock tune and excellent guitar soloing in a country rock style with some great bending and constant solo work throughout as seen in this album, the guitars alone really don't disappoint one's ears and the song does carry that lonesome subject of living in a small town as country is a form of the blues.
Young seems to have changed his voice a bit more in a lower register on this album from his last with a smoother and more confident air, another element that makes this album stick out more. "Round and Round" is a delicate folk ballad with sensitive and calming serenity and great accompanying vocals with a rich acoustic guitar. "Down by the River" offers a strangely depressing song with those grave lyrics about murdering and it once again is delivered in excellent ominous vocals to suit the mood and really sad screaming guitar soloing that just goes on throughout; rhythm and lead taking over at different points in an orgy of sound with constant and scintillating solos. "The Losing End (When You're On" is yet another well written song that offers the country-folk rock side of the album in another slightly saddening mood but still has that an intensity of energy that is present with the whole group when they perform together.
"Running Dry (Requiem for the Rockets)" has more offering of this dark side of Neil Young's songwriting and violin played in a more disconsolate along with lyrics that offer a person who is quite depressed but it all comes forth in a raging luminescent beauty. "Cowgirl in the Sand" is the closing track to the album that gives off this sense of heartbroken ends and turmoil in love that has been lost and gives these emotions that are articulated in the guitar's works of screaming violence as if the guitar is just crying, sobbing and screaming. The opening to the track is subtle has almost a drone psychedelic sense to it similar to the intro of an early Genesis song "The Serpent" with an intro of similarity. The calm intro is broken with a vehement burst of loud distorted drone. Neil Young is definitely in his most creatively brilliant time in his career and this album helps to depict that.
Overall Impression — 10
Crazy Horse overall proves to be an ideal backing band for Young, especially in this stage, as they had a rough and simplistic sound that fitted his style perfectly and allowed him to make room for improvisation and brilliant musical arrangements. The album was recorded in a very organic and earthy way with a serious raw, one-take vibe although that probably wasn't the case the sound on here is still gold; it's nice to hear musicians of skill just getting together and making emotionally felt music in different spirits and feelings. The whole taking of a more original and reel sound is quite brilliant to hear compared to his debut "Neil Young" in 1968 although that album rivals this one, I prefer that real sound that would sound just as if I were standing there while they were playing. Overall "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" made much more of an impact than the debut album, as Young had seemed to have found his voice as a solo artist, thanks in no small part to his new backing group. I do love the more darker and sad side that the album has to offer which contrasts with the more upbeat but is the key element as a concept that seems to be incorporated here, the masterpieces that are offered are "Cowgirl in the Sand" and "Down by the River" being the swansongs of the album, although the rest is still a masterpiece in its own right, I feel a great amount of emotion permeating from those long and well done pieces.