Neil Young/ A Letter Home (Reprise, 2014)
A Letter Home was recorded in Jack White's 1947 Voice-O-Graph booth, which records things in mono straight to wax. No overdubs, no double tracking, this is as live and real as it gets. The sound quality is raw and sometimes crackly, the result of the machine recording it directly to vinyl. It sounds otherworldly at times, like some old 78 or something. Very strange yet somehow very pleasing. This digital world of ours is all smoke and mirrors. I grew up in the analog world and always believed those albums. There was a truth to them. A band had to play their instruments and sing their songs. Technology has afforded those without any talent the ability to make music. The lack of quality in modern music is painfully obvious when the biggest news in music this week was the reissue of Led Zeppelin's first three albums with a bonus disc of table scraps.
Like 2012's Americana, this album is all covers. Unlike that album, this is more contemporary, at least by Neil Young standards. Young covers material from the '50s-80s, from Gordon Lightfoot to Willie Nelson to Bruce Springsteen. Jack White completists will want this since he plays and does backing vocals on a few songs. This is an offbeat album as a whole. Is it wrong that I enjoy the two spoken word “tracks” as much as the songs? I do enjoy how the mic seems to get overloaded, with Neil's voice occasionally drowning out the guitar. The songs are all weird and charming in their own way, be it the music or the sheer novelty of the sound of the recording itself. Whatever it is, it works.
I bought this on CD, which has two bonus tracks over the original Record Store Day LP release which was out a month earlier. The practice of doing format or chain store exclusive bonus tracks is bullshit, plain and simple. An album should be the album, whether you like it on vinyl, cassette, CD, or mp3. Don't insult the folks who pay for your music by essentially asking them to buy it again when they bought it on Record Store Day in good faith.
I am a CD purist, which may seem weird given my propensity for analog recorded music, but there you have it. The packaging is a gatefold cardboard sleeve with two pockets. On one side you get a faux record sleeve sheet of paper, complete with faux aging and printed wrinkles. On the other side you get the CD. It would have been nice to get a full paper sleeve to go around the CD to prevent scratching from going in and out of the cardboard. Why are CD buyers considered second class citizens? LP buyers would scream bloody murder if their albums were thrown in cardboard with no protection. Give me a plastic hub or a protective sleeve. I have no problem paying for music. Don't treat me like a chump with cost saves like that.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 3.75 out of 5.