Neil Young, Gillian Welch, and Jolie Holland
A Treasure, The Harrow & the Harvest, and Pint of Blood (Reprise)
Reviewed by Doug Freeman, Fri., July 8, 2011
Neil YoungA Treasure (Reprise)
Gillian WelchThe Harrow & the Harvest (Acony)
Jolie Holland & the Grand ChandeliersPint of Blood (Anti-)
As Neil Young continues to mine his archives, the live recordings from 1984-85 that make up A Treasure prove essential to the series. With support from Geffen Records waning, Young retaliated with a crack country outfit in the International Harvesters and dug his boots into the outlaw sound with conviction. "Are You Ready for the Country" cuts like the challenge it was intended to be, while "Bound for Glory" couples Young's warble with supple fiddle and slicing steel that rolls throughout. Coming off the blister of 2010's Le Noise, the swaying chorus of "Flying on the Ground Is Wrong," chugging rhythm on "Southern Pacific," and bite in "Get Back to the Country" are equally revelatory. Gillian Welch, meanwhile, returns after an eight-year drought with fifth LP The Harrow & the Harvest, an album sown with dry desperation. Hearkening the soft moments of Revival and Hell Among the Yearlings, its Appalachian-inflected ballads harbor no release or relief, from burnt-down opener "Scarlet Town" to the six-minute closing crawl of "The Way the Whole Thing Ends." The fallen grasp of "Tennessee" sits among Welch's best, but as she drawls on "Silver Dagger," "I'm on the dark side of a hollow hill." There's similar intensity to Jolie Holland & the Grand Chandeliers' Pint of Blood, the roving, Austin-reared songwriter's fifth effort. The former Be Good Tanya quilts a quivering, affected vocal that's nevertheless warm on the lilting "Wreckage," the lower register of "Tender Mirror," and the bitter shock of "Remember." The trill and tremble overpowers retread "Little Birds," here separated from the wanderlust charm of the Tanyas' version, and the closing take on Townes Van Zandt's "Rex's Blues," which haunts a bit too ethereally.