100 of 114 people found the following review helpful
on May 5, 2014
I've read a few reviews highlighting the poor, wobbly sound quality of "A Letter Home." I think some are missing the point. With the opening intro spoken word "letter" to his mom, Young sets a very personal tone with this record that creates a true sense of nostalgia (Although, I do find it ironic that Young and White have created this artificially degraded sound at a time Young has been promoting his Ponto device as a higher quality music delivery system). The album sounds as though Neil turned on an old cassette recorder on the porch, punched record and plays a set of remarkable stripped down songs with the sole intention of mailing that tape just for Mom's ears. We, however, get to enjoy the audio letter as well. The sound quality is not an issue but rather an artistic expression meant to take you back in time, perhaps if you are older, to a younger, simpeler time. In fact, The back cover photo seems to suggest that Young recorded the album in Jack White's Third Man's Recording booth in Nashville. It's a photograph shot on film in grainy sepia tone (as the front cover suggests). Pure nostalgia, particularly since the entire album is comprised of covers and as such, each represent a road map in Neil's and quite possibly your time on this planet. As I write this, I am listening to A Letter Home for the first time on a quiet sunny and breezy cinco de mayo. The occasional crackle of my vinyl copy only enhances the peaceful ambience the album already endears ...And I'm enjoying what I'm hearing.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on June 25, 2014
I've never written a review on Amazon. I am moved to do so now, though, by the many misleading reviews that have been posted lambasting this release. As my score conveys, I've really enjoyed listening to this disc. Granted, I love Neil Young, but not to the point of blindness; I think I know a dud when I hear one, and I'm willing to admit that he, like most any other musician, is capable of making one. He's not in that habit, though, and this album is no dud; I love it. Here's what you need to know:
Firstly, it's an album of covers, classic songs, mostly from when he was 'young'. Willie Nelson takes two turns, as does Gordon Lightfoot; the Everly Bros are accounted for, and even The Boss gets a nod. Take a look at the track listing. The songs are uniformly strongly written, classic tracks. If you like them, read on; if you don't, this record obviously ain't for you; for the uninitiated, Youtube will help. Not a lemon in the bunch, though.
Secondly, please be aware that the tracks were recorded using what, by 1960s' standards, no less today's (2014), are ancient. There's 0 production value here. By way of comparison, I offer you the sound heard on Robert Johnson's or Willie Johnson's records: reasonably, mostly, kinda-sorta clean, but a bit hazy and fuzzy; totally discernible voice and guitar / piano (mostly guitar, though) accompaniment, but not at all sophisticated, not AT ALL similar to modern recordings. What does that mean? It means Neil and his guitar sound a wee bit distant, and there is a pinch of hiss and pop...but that's all. I don't quite get the perspective of those reviewers who've been awarding the record one star due to its sound; have they never listened to a recording prior to, say, the 1940s?!?! Call it a gimmick, a concept, what have you. Just don't say it's unlistenable. It's not unlistenable. I've listened to it on my stereo, as well as on my iPod, with no problem.
Summarily: If you're after new Neil originals and / or expect fairly modern (and I use the term quite loosely: 8 track and later) studio recordings, this may not be what you want. It's not a fidelity showpiece. But then, I think that's the point, to an extent. In lieu of bright, squeaky clean audio, what this release offers,is strong selection of fantastically written, well arranged, classic songs, performed with a real feeling. Take it or leave, but please don't bemoan it. I'll take it.
34 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on May 20, 2014
The scatter-shot song list, a voice and instrument filtered through a 1947 recording booth... and Neil Young following an impulsive concept, how does it add up and where does it lead? I had apprehensions and then listened since I've been tagging along his journey for decades.
There is a sweet melancholy in the way the elements come together on this record. There is a sense of time travel with the scratchy old sound in-which Young 'writes' a letter to his mother talking about the music that was an important shared bond back in the day. He mentions that he and Jack (White) have re-discovered a lot of the old songs.
The concept plays like a lost find being shared through a 1947 sound booth. I find some comfort in the antiquated sound and sentiment of family, community and the past."You know the ghost is me," Neil sings in Lightfoot's "If You Could Read My Mind." And I think Neil is the ghost from a wishing well of how our lives would like to have been.
79 of 98 people found the following review helpful
on May 8, 2014
the ambiance and intimacy of this recording give it a warmth and sincerity that are almost totally missing from current music. no, the sound is not "perfect", but that is the point. there is heart in this music, and it will touch yours if you allow it. neil hasn't hit the target this effectively in years. ignore the negative reviews: don't run from this album; run to it.
29 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on May 27, 2014
More than a few things resonate here. It might be Neil being Neil...as if I knew him. Full disclosure, though. I've been a big fan since before "Harvest" and count "Time Fades Away", "On the Beach" and "Tonight's the Night" as desert island discs. They were about heart, soul, grief, love, and loss. Listening to his cover of Jansch's "Needle of Death", I immediately heard "Ambulance Blues" from OTB. Sent a few shivers down my spine. Never been a huge Gordon Lightfoot fan, but these covers got to me. Especially "If You Can Read My Mind". Neil obviously adores these songs, and sounds as if he's reminding himself and his mom in his audio love letter just what made them unique. They must have listened to these together when she was alive. They've got heart, soul, love found, love lost and that crazy melancholy baby thing going on....Just wants to make you drop the needle in the groove and listen one more time in spite of the old snap, crackle, and pop.
A lot has already been said about the "vintage" audio and why this has come out right when Neil and his Pono team have just successfully "kickstarted" their new hi-res audio player. Ironic indeed. I got on board with that and can't wait to hear how Crazy Horse sounds in hi-res audio glory when my "signature" player arrives at the end of the year. So I get why some folks will be upset listening to this. For me, putting on the headphones and getting sucked into the "letter home" made me feel like there was no better way to do this, though. I love the sound of vintage vinyl as much as I love hi-res audio. On my records, I know where each pop comes on favorite albums, and it's almost like comfort food. Granted, you don't want "mac and cheese" audio every meal, but sometimes it is the only thing that moves you.
Finally, I love that Neil says he's not at all ready to join his beloved mom, daddy, and Ben (Keith) RIP, the dear friend, soulmate, and musician he just recently lost. Take a listen to "For the Turnstiles" on OTB and know Ben would love this album and his slide guitar work would have fit right in. Neil's thankfully still got work to do and we, at least his true fans, should love that he's here with us in all his idiosyncratic glory. This might be an odd addition to his copious catalog, but I'll take a second helping and more. So go ahead and put down your computer, smart device, iPod, or whatever is distracting you, and listen closely to this, with headphones preferably. Imagine Neil really is writing and singing a beautiful, heartfelt letter home. A letter we're fortunately privy to. Thank you kindly, Neil.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on June 13, 2014
What I like most about this album is how it reminds me of moments in my life being 12 years old in 1959 and sneaking out of the house around midnight going out to my dad's old "50 Buick convertible and listening to the radio with the top down in the middle of no where south of Reno in the Nevada desert. And the endless times I spent listening to my scratched 45s on a $15.00 Webcor phonograph player. If I could go back to this period of time I would do it in an instant. I am a big Neil Young fan and aside from the ambiance of the recording quality something I find unique to this album are the covers of the songs he has chosen, these are some very good songs. Consider that in his almost 50 year career as focal point musician he has only done a few covers. Regardless of what anyone thinks I really love this album, the guitar playing, the piano playing and that Neil has been willing to once again bare his soul and play around with boundaries.
64 of 86 people found the following review helpful
on May 13, 2014
These old songs recorded with this sort of ambiance (in what amounts to a room smaller than a phone booth with a primitive microphone) allows you to listen in a new way. That is, an old way. Anyone who has an issue with "inferior sound quality" is missing the point entirely. It's a warm crackly wonderful sound. This is how a lonesome sailor sounded in 1942 as he recorded a message for his mother.
Neil Young's tattered voice thrives in this setting.
Complainers should go home and cry into their perfect Steely Dan albums.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
This album is what happens when Neil Young steps inside a completely refurbished Voice-o-Graph recording booth from the 1940's and records some of the songs which he says "changed his life." The Voice-o-Graph records direct to a single mono track on a 6" acetate disc and it is anything but hi-fidelity. The people that are asking why Neil Young would release an album like this are totally missing the point that it's more of a time capsule than a modern record.
If you've ever heard old recordings from the 20's, 30's and 40's you'll have an idea of the audio quality here. There is distortion, there are pops and cracks and even small dropouts at times. All are a part of the beauty and joy of the recording method. Sure, recording an album this way is a bit of a gimmick but it's one that has an interesting result.
A couple of the tracks are a spoken "letter home" to his mother, which is just how someone might have used a machine like this back when it was introduced, and this brings a very intimate feel to the recording as a whole. Since these songs were recorded solo in a phone booth sized studio with no edits being possible what we get here is Neil at his most raw as he covers songs written by Willie Nelson, Bruce Springsteen, Gordon Lightfoot, Bob Dylan and others.
I do get that you're either going to love this set or hate it based solely on whether or not you can get past the lo-fi aspect here. If you can get past the fact that this sounds like something recorded long before Elvis and the Beatles then I think you'll enjoy the performances.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 19, 2014
I am a moderate fan of Neil Young and I own several of his LP's. Neil has always been an artist first even if it meant making music that was foreign to the style he is known. This album is a concept, he is an artist...... For folks that don't like it what were you expecting??? This is exactly what he said he was going to do. He absolutely nails it and it is by far my favorite full album of his. Neil is a legend having fun, waxing nostalgic and paying tribute to songs in a manner befitting them. He has always had a childish side to him and the listener knows his inner 12 year old had a blast recording these in that 40's Voice-O-Graph booth. The album sounds as intended, scratchy, dated and absolutely wonderful........
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 3, 2014
I've listened to this album more than I thought I would. The song selection and Neil's performances hearken back to his earliest days as a performer. The overall feel of the performances and the method he used to record the album remind me of listening to a vinyl bootleg of a small acoustic show someone might have recorded on an old school piece of analog equipment. All of this is a good thing. Prior to the archive series of live performances I was quite accustomed to listening to "imperfect" early recordings of live Neil. I'm happy to say that "A Letter Home" stacks up well against the best of those. Particularly the songs Changes, Girl From The North Country, Needle of Death, Early Morning Rain, Reason To Believe, If You Could Read My Mind, Since I Met You Baby, and My Hometown -- these could have been torn right from a coffee house performance in 1965. Crazy, On The Road Again, and the Jack White duet (I Wonder If I Care As Much) didn't work as well, but are still worthwhile.