Chrome Dreams II
Neil Young curiously shelved Chrome Dreams, which included early versions of "Like a Hurricane," "Powderfinger" and "Too Far Gone," shortly before the album's scheduled release date in 1977. Widely bootlegged, it became mandatory contraband for any serious Young enthusiast. The deviously titled Chrome Dreams II doesn't qualify as essential Young listening — but it comes close. A seamless collection of trunk and new material, CDII ranks as Young's most satisfying album since 1989's Freedom, another collection cobbled together from recording sessions that spanned many years.
In 2005, Neil Young returned to the country with the mostly acoustic Prairie Wind, and last year he opted for torrents of electric grunge on the ripped-from-the-headlines protest album Living with War. Both releases contained choice cuts, but the discs that proved far more interesting and consistent in recent years were the archive chestnuts Live at the Fillmore East (1970) and Live at the Massey Hall 1971. Perhaps with this in mind, Young built Chrome Dreams II around the 18-minute, live-in-the-studio epic "Ordinary People," an approximately two-decade-old outtake from his 1988 album This Note's For You. Whereas the use of horns in Note's resulted in a pedestrian foray into R&B, on "Ordinary People" the interplay between Young's hypnotic electric guitar excursions and the punchy brass section catches fire, resulting in a potent backdrop for verses that work as cinematic vignettes.
Young tells gritty tales of hotrod racers, drug pushers, factory workers and unemployed models. He's able to sympathize with both heroes and villains, offering a paean to the working class that cuts through political divides. It's the kind of simple anthem that worms its way under your skin and holds you there for the entire slog, which lasts longer than a network sitcom. Finally, Young's voice, an underrated instrument that on this cut sounds as intense and plaintive as anything he's ever recorded, that truly sells the song.
"Some are saints, and some are jerks, hard workin' people," Young offers in a shaky, impassioned growl.
Although its centerpiece is heavy, loud and bleak, Chrome Dreams II opens with the charmingly light acoustic number "Beautiful Bluebird," which recalls Harvest. CDII closes with the uplifting piano-ballad "The Way," a recently recorded hymn-like plea for world peace that makes good use of a children's choir during the chorus. (Yeah, it sounds icky, but it works.) 4 stars —Wade Tatangelo
Live at the Murat
A Midwest jam band with an ear for jazz, reggae, funk, hip-hop, prog-rock and old-school metal, Umphrey's McGee has been spreading its clever brand of frenzied, Zappa-indebted good times since forming a decade ago at the University of Notre Dame. While Umphrey's has released several live albums over the years — Songs for Older Women (1999), One Fat Sucka (2000), Local Band Does Oklahoma (2004) — their latest release, Live at the Murat, has been curiously billed in press releases as their "first official live album."
In truth, it's their first concert doc released on the jam-oriented indie label Sci Fidelity (String Cheese Incident, Greyboy Allstars). "What we realized in late 2006 was that we had yet to release a live album that captured the band achieving the best of what we thought we could be," read the liner notes.
Recorded over two nights at the Egyptian Room at the Murat Center in Indianapolis during Easter weekend of this year, Live at the Murat is a double-disc concert souvenir that anyone curious about Umphrey's should procure. Superbly recorded and mixed, the album finds the band presenting its intricately arranged compositions with ample verve and precision, sounding taut and serving up improvisations sans the incessant noodling that sours so many people on the jam-band genre.
Live at the Murat kicks off with a 20-minute version of "In the Kitchen" that's divided into four tracks. One of the group's best-known numbers, it builds slowly to the catchy, sing-along chorus: "The TV's on too much and I don't ever think enough/ About the things that matter most and what could make me old."
The second disc starts with a nine-minute version of the jubilant, backyard barbecue ode "40's Theme." Its followed by such finely executed fan favorites as the space-funk workout "The Triple Wide," and the closer, "Padgett's Profile," a song that starts like a galloping classic-rock cut, mutates into a keyboard-driven freak-out and eventually ends with a sweet, Southern-fried finale. 3.5 stars —WT