Welcome to the first in an irregular series where I look back on forgotten gems or at least decent albums from the corners of my collection, giving me an excuse to listen closely to an album I may have overlooked for some years.
There’s no great rhyme or reason to the choices, with this first one chosen when I dug it out as part of my bid to listen to as many of my Neil Young albums as possible prior to seeing him at the Echo Arena last July (see my review here). So, yes, this article has been brewing for a while!
Comes A Time is Neil Young’s tenth album since starting his solo career, coming out in October 1978. The curmudgeonly Canuck returned to the country-tinged sound of his biggest seller to date, 1972’s Harvest. It came nineteen months after American Stars ‘N Bars, with the triple Decade compilation coming in between.
It had originally been a completely solo effort, although when Young played it for Reprise Records he was asked to add some rhythm tracks.
Look Out For My Love features Crazy Horse, leading to much more forceful guitar picking as Neil sings “you own it”, and some nice harmonies in the chorus. The jagged Crazy Horse guitars feature on occasions, but subtly enough so that the song doesn’t jar with the down-home feel of the album as a whole.
Neil’s long-time backing band also feature on the next song, Lotta Love. They come through much more than on the preceding number, although they don’t really sound much like the Crazy Horse we know and love. The song also suffers from being a bit trite lyrically, although Nicolette Larson (who doesn’t actually feature on this song) took her version of this into the US Top 10 singles chart later that year.
The album’s central lull continues with Peace Of Mind, which is rather bland both musically and lyrically, with a very strong focus on Neil’s vocals.
The old side two kicks off with Human Highway, a song that was originally presented to Crosby, Stills & Nash in 1974, for an album that never came to be. The song has some lovely banjo and pedal steel work on it, with more effective vocal backing from Nicolette.
The gentle, almost lazy Already One features some gentle picking in the background, a clip clop rhythm and a sweet pedal steel solo by Ben Keith. The vocal harmonising with Nicolette on the chorus really makes the song.
The very country Field Of Opportunity is followed by the rockiest track on the album, Motorcycle Mama, which features some very cheesy lyrics as Neil and Nicolette trade vocal sections, with the latter on wailing form. Despite itrock-ness, the song also includes some country fiddle.
Canadian Ian Tyson wrote Four Strong Winds in the early 1960’s, with its most well-known recording made by Ian & Sylvia in 1963, with Bobby Bare having a big country hit with it two years later. Impressively, listeners of national station CBC Radio One chose this song as the greatest Canadian song of all time in 2005.
Neil and Nicolette sing this closing song as a proper duet, with some lovely acoustic guitar and another nice pedal steel solo. Prior to last year’s A Letter Home covers album, this was one of less than ten songs written by others that Shakey had released on a studio album. It was released as a single, becoming a minor hit in the US and Canada, and less so in the UK.
The album wasn’t a huge success, although it reached #7 in the US album charts. After this, Neil turned away from acoustic, country sounds as much as he could, reuniting with Crazy Horse for the classic Rust Never Sleeps, his next full-lengther released eight months later.
For years, it was claimed that Young had bought 200,000-odd copies of Comes A Time as he was unhappy with the sound. However, he said in an interview with Rolling Stone in March 2014 that he had used these records as shingles for a barn roof!
It’s certainly far from his best work, and one I’d put behind 10-15 of Young’s other albums in terms of quality. However, it’s a very pleasant, enjoyable album (not to damn it with too much faint praise), and one I have enjoyed revisiting recently.
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Here is the full album: