The Harvest 50th Anniversary box set is a celebration of a peak time in Neil Young’s life.
The vinyl set includes the original album, an album of Neil Young’s 8-song 1971 BBC-TV solo acoustic concert, and a 7-inch single with three outtakes… “Journey Through The Past”, “Bad Fog Of Loneliness” and “Dance Dance Dance”.
For the first time, I got both the vinyl & CD versions of a box set. Here’s the size difference.
The Harvest album is great, the BBC concert is good, and the three outtakes are nice to have, especially “Journey Through The Past”. The real highlights of the box set are the book and the Harvest Time film.
Like Neil Young, Harvest Time is a little rough around the edges, but filled with talent. And that talent includes the Nashville musicians who make up Neil’s backing band, The Stray Gators. In 1971, Neil Young had purchased a ranch near San Francisco that he named Broken Arrow Ranch.
As the film begins, we see Neil Young and The Stray Gators playing in a large old barn on the ranch. It’s not a custom studio built into a barn, but rather an actual barn with a recording truck parked outside of it. There are microphones inside the barn, and the audio is fed to large tape decks in the truck.
The first song we hear is “Alabama”, and it sounds really good, even though they’re recording with the big barn door open and the vocal harmonies are missing. Other songs they play include “Words (Between The Lines Of Age)”, “Are You Ready For The Country”, and several extended instrumental jams. You can see how much all of these guys love playing music.
It’s unfortunate that the filming for this documentary wasn’t started sooner. Neil Young met all these musicians when he went to Nashville to appear on The Johnny Cash Show. After the show, Neil went into a studio with Linda Ronstadt & James Taylor who had also been on the show. The musicians that recorded with them that night became Neil’s backing band for Harvest and other albums. By the way, the two songs recorded that night were “Heart Of Gold” and “Old Man”. Sure wish we could have seen those sessions!
The film moves to a recording studio in New York. We see Stephen Stills and David Crosby join Neil to record the vocal harmonies for the track “Alabama” that was recorded in the barn. At one point, Neil plays a piano as they work on their harmonies. Stephen & David lean in so close that the three singers are almost touching heads. They’re obviously enjoying working together.
Later, we see Graham Nash join Neil & Stephen to record the harmonies for “Words (Between The Lines Of Age)”. The three singers are standing at a single microphone, and Graham and Neil are holding beers. The harmony sounds off, and it looks like it could be because of the beers, but eventually you see them work out the parts, and nail the final take.
We get to watch Neil Young record two songs with The London Symphony Orchestra… “A Man Needs A Maid” and “There’s A World”. Neil recorded the songs live with the orchestra instead of having the orchestra overdubbed. This is a fascinating part of the film. Here’s this long-haired hippie in a flannel shirt playing with a large orchestra made up of men who are mostly in suits & ties. You wonder what they think of Neil. He doesn’t look or sound like the musicians they normally accompany. Initially there’s some trouble keeping the orchestra in synch with Neil, but they work it out. We even see some of the musicians getting Neil Young’s autograph at the end.
The film is not up to today’s technical standards. It’s in the old 4:3 ratio instead of wide screen. It doesn’t have any kind of typical documentary narrative, but Neil Young fans can immerse themselves in the joy of the music. Neil Young is obviously loving being at his ranch, and enjoying this time in his 25-year-old life.
At one point, someone asks if this is a film that will be in theaters. Neil says… “Yeah, maybe pretty soon.”