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Music Reviews

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December 7 , 1994

Sleeps With Angels

Sleeps with AngelsNeil Young, Sleeps with Angels (Reprise 1994) -- Sleeps with Angels, the 35th album from Neil Young, shows why he has become an enduring force on the American musical landscape. Blending his often intensely personal statements with his eclectic musical visions, Sleeps with Angeles is a solid album with many bursts of greatness.

Young, who was raised in Toronto (his father was a sportswriter for the Toronto Sun), moved to Los Angeles in the mid-60s, where he soon formed the seminal Buffalo Springfield. Following the breakup of this milestone band, Young launched his solo career in earnest, bracketed around stints with Stephen Stills, David Crosby, and Graham Nash (better known as CSNY).

Young has always been a maverick, and refuses to be pigeonholed into any single genre or idiom. Thus, his albums have ranged from techno (1981's Re-Ac-Tor) to the more countryish Hawks & Doves (1980) through full-blown metal (such as Weld from 1991).

Sleeps with Angels, which was inspired by the death last spring of Kurt Cobain, finds Young sampling a variety of styles. Though the album was recorded with Crazy Horse (consisting of Frank "Poncho" Sampedro on guitars and keyboards, Billy Talbot on bass, and vibes and Ralph Molina on drums), the 12 tracks on this disc do not all bear the signature Crazy Horse heavy-rock sound.

While the title track sounds like vintage Crazy Horse, other portions of the album have a more acoustic sound, a la 1992's Harvest Moon.

The best two cuts are "My Heart" and "Prime of Life," which present alternate viewpoints of Kurt Cobain's suicide. "My Heart" is written from Kurt's perspective, and acknowledges that "When dreams come trashing down like trees/I don't know what love can do . . . My heart, my heart/I've got to keep my heart . . . Somewhere, somewhere/I've got to get somewhere/It's not too late, it's not too late."

The companion piece, "Prime of Life," is Young's personal reaction to the death. For Kurt and his trampy wife, Courtney Love (of Hole), it should have been "the prime of life for the king and queen/Where the spirit grows/And the mirror shows both ways." But something went terribly wrong; upon learning of Kurt's death, Young says "When I first saw your face/It took my breath away."

Young's honest and real; his anger and dissatisfaction have never faded away, but only grown more channeled. Nobody really knows what made Kurt do it (though many knew he was deeply troubled), and "My Heart" captures his desperation. Having also experienced the trials and tribulations of life, Young has the true ability to understand suffering -- and to express his anger about Kurt's needless death.

Other highlights on Sleeps with Angels include "Piece of Crap," Young's anthem to every piece of consumer garbage that didn't work when you brought it home, and a lovely melody that forms two songs, "Western Hero" and "Train of Love." Young liked this tune so much that he wrote two separate sets of lyrics for it.

"Western Hero" is more cliched ("He wore a six gun on his hip/But now he doesn't carry it",) while "Train of Love" is a softer song that works better -- when Young sings, "This train will never run me down/But only take me where I'm bound/It's part of me and part of you/I'll always be a part of you," you know he means it.

Though last year's Unplugged was Young's best album in years (because of its consistency), Sleeps with Angels (which will not be supported by a tour) continues in the true Neil Young tradition -- and that's all we can ask for.

Renegade SaintsRenegade Saints, Fear of the Sky (River Road Records 1994) -- Here's a rare combination -- a debut album for both a band and a label. River Road Records, a new label out of Minneapolis, has signed the Renegade Saints as their first act. This five-piece band make an auspicious debut on Fear of the Sky; if only radio can find them, they should catch fire.

The Renegade Saints are based in Eugene, Oregon, and consist of Mike Walker on Hammond organ and piano, Dave Coey on bass and vocals, John Shipe on guitar and vocals, Alan Toribio on guitar and vocals, and Andy Mitchell on drums. With a sound that is dominated by the richness of a Hammond organ, three-part vocal harmonies, and rockin' rhythm and guitar, Renegade Saints conjure up images of Santana and The Allman Brothers.

Featuring three lead singers, Fear of the Sky doesn't settle into a single groove -- rather, each singer brings his own spin to the fold. When asked what message they were trying to convey in the album, John Shipe said, "Everybody is fucked up in some way or another, so we should quit giving each other a hard time about it. One way to say that in music is to open up and make yourself vulnerable."

Mike Walker adds that his biggest learning experience was "coming to college at a time of existential bewilderment. I was ripe for enlightenment and was given much food for thought, both in and outside of school. Anecdotally, riding my Sting Ray off a four-foot drop because Evel Knevil made it look so easy taught me several things. Some things aren't as easy the pros make them look; the laws of physics require a ramp in order to gain elevation; and always cover your nuts when throwing yourself into a freefall."

On their best tracks, such as "Thin Layer" and "Something Good," the Renegade Saints deliver a heady, rocking mix that sounds like a cross between Big Head Todd and Blues Traveler. However, the real highlights of the album are the more countrified/acoustic numbers like "Tara" and "Deep End." In particular, the splendid gospel harmony vocals on "Deep End" sounds like they came straight off the great new album from the Subdudes (Annunciation, on High Street Records).

"Deep End" is a true showcase for the talents of the band, and a song that deserved considerable air play. Fear of the Sky ought to be a big crossover hit, as River Road Records has found a real gem. But if you haven't figured it out by now, let me make it plain -- there's no justice in the music business. Bands are judged based on their label affiliation instead of their true talents. So be fair and open minded -- give the Renegade Saints a chance, and you'll like them.

-- Randy Krbechek

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