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wonderfully resonant Voice of a forgotten singer,
This review is from: Tear Down the Walls / Bleecker & Macdougal (Audio CD)
Fred Neil was the King of the East Village coffee shop, pass-the-hat folksingers in the very early sixties and this 2cd set shows why. Much of his origins and late life are shrouded in rumour and mystery.
Sinatra, Johnny Cash, even Jim Morrison had great baritone voices, but Fred Neil's Sound was really something else. Neil had the most spectacularly deep resonant baritone voice, a voice that would sound wonderful reading the phone book! Everyone idolized him, everyone imitated him, everyone covered his songs: Roy Orbison, The Jefferson Airplane, the Youngbloods, Harry Nilsson, Tim Buckley, Tim Hardin, Judy Henske, John Sebastian, Gram Parsons, Linda Ronstadt, Tom Rush, Roger McGuinn. An unknown, awestruck, social climbing Bob Dylan used to play backup harmonica for Fred Neil and his ringing 12 string in the Village years before these albums. (Dylan mentions this in bio pic "No Direction Home") Fred was one of the main influences on David Crosby, Steven Stills (Crosby, Stills and Nash were going to call themselves "Sons of Neil" before Neil talked them out of it!).
Neil was a Brill Building song writer, like Carol King, for years before venturing out on his own.
The albums burst with early sixtes (there were TWO sixties!) folkie seriousness and energy. There is much more energy and precision here than "The Many Side of Fred Neil" which is also worth having.
The first album with Vince Martin is very closely sung duets of incredible precision, Martin singing tenor, with amazing parasing so they often sound like one singer (until Neil hits a deep, rich low note). Standouts are "I Know you Rider" "Tear down the Walls" "Linin Track".
A line from "Toy Balloon" so impressed Jefferson Airplane's Paul Kantner & Grace Slick that it found it's way into "The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil", in fact "PoohNeil" is a combination of Winnie the Pooh and the gentle Fred Neil. See also "House at Pooneil Corner".
Yes, "Red Flowers" and "Tear Down the Walls" are a protest songs that aren't sure what they are protesting about, and "Dade County Jail" is embarassingly silly but just listen to the Voice and ignore the lyrics there. (That was the early sixites - optimism and often silly protest.) But the others song are masterpieces.
The second album, Bleeker & MacDougal, gets even better, more bluesy. It is a Neil solo with includes his second most famous song "Other Side of This Life" which was covered by Jefferson Airplane and nearly everyone else. (His most famous is "Everybody's Takin at Me", a hit for Harry Nilsson, and the story on Neil's life. Not included here). "Blues on the Ceiling" has a deep world weary quality to it. "A little bit of Rain" is deeply melancholy. "Sweet Mama" is upbeat with ringing 12 string overtones. When he sings the word "home" on "Bleeker & MacDougal" his voice sets up bass standing waves all over the room! The famous line about dating golddigging women with a "Handful of Gimmie (and a mouthful of much obliged)" found it's way into Tom Rush's "Drop-Down Mama" from the same era. (I don't know if it was Fred Neil's first or not). "Yonder Come the Blues" (dressed in high-heeled shoes)! Not a bad cut on the bluesy second album.
Fred hated the music industry and its commercialism. He dropped out and didn't record for the last 30 years of his life or so, living frugally of the proceeds from "Everybody's Talking at Me", despite offers from Rock Giants to record duets again. Now his incredible talent is forgotten by nearly all but "a small band of admirers (many of them stars in their own right)".
The shy reclusive Fred Neil was the singer's singer. Just listen and let The Voice wash over you. Like deep rich chocolate. he represents the skill and purity of folk, with occational bluesy jazzy tone.
This album is the best example extant of his talent. (Lost somewhere is rumoured a tape of a young Bob Dylan and Fred Neil jamming).
Excellent sound on this import.