Neil Young is cool as shit... there I got that out of the way. He has been an inspiration to numerous bands over his 50+ year career working with Buffalo Springfield, CSNY, and his solo work. Young has played with musicians as diverse as Rick James in their first band together in the 60s dubbed The Mynah Birds, to Pearl Jam as his backing band on his 90s record Mirror Ball. And… the man is as prolific as they come with 38 records under his belt with no signs of slowing down at 70 years young.
The first time I saw Neil Young was on TV, some VH1 thing, I was probably 6 or so. He was sitting in a chair, stringy hair, flannel shirt, acoustic guitar with a falsetto that sometimes wavered into J. Mascis territory. In between songs he was unintelligible but when he began playing “Heart of Gold”, or “Old Man” and that foot got stomping, it was more than electric.
Which is why his new, albeit older, record is so important. Hitchhiker is being dubbed Young’s lost solo acoustic record. A collection of 10 songs recorded over a two-day drug-fueled recording session in 1976. As the actual acoustic songs never saw the light of day, many of the songs have been poached for other records over the years. Opening track, the Neil Young staple “Pocahontas” was released on Rust Never Sleeps but was written during the Hitchhiker sessions. Young is the only one who could have ever done this song justice, and it is equally as beautiful on this record.
“Powderfinger”, here in its acoustic beginnings, was released on the louder side of Rust Never Sleeps but is no less powerful here. “Captain Kennedy” is on Young’s 1980 record Hawks & Doves and is pretty much unchanged, but the story is choice. The title track “Hitchhiker” was featured on his 2010 record Le Noise with Young and the electric fuzz of his guitar. On Hitchhiker, the acoustic version is mellower, but no less abrasive.
There are two previously unreleased songs on the record. “Hawaii” is a ballad showcasing Young’s vocal range. “Give Me Strength” is a gem of a tune that could have rivaled any one of Youngs best acoustic offerings.
Hitchhiker is an absolutely fascinating look at the brilliance of an artist in transition. Rumors were that the whole record was unscripted, and it was Young with his producer writing and recording on the fly. Songs like “Pocahontas” and “Powderfinger” written in 20 minutes and recorded within the same time frame. If you’re a Neil Young fan and want a reveal into his creative process, listen to this record.
9.5 / 10
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