Neil gets ready for the country (again)
For an album which sounds so effortless to listen to, it sure took Neil Young a lot of time (and money) to produce what would turn out to be one of his most cheerful records in years. The story goes that he was so unhappy with the initial run of Comes A Time he wound up collecting as many as he could and used the whole 200,000 copies as target practice thanks to a .22 calibre rifle. But then Neil was just that sort of bloke.
After the depressingly glorious On The Beach (1974) and cathartic Tonight’s The Night (1975), Young pressed on with the superb Zuma (1975), the underrated Long May You Run, with Stephen Stills (1976), and American Stars ‘n Bars (1977). Yet Comes A Time was something different. A seemingly contented, down home country-rock record, the album itself has all the warmth of an open hearth amidst a freezing winter.
“Goin’ Back” and title track “Comes A Time” drift out of the listener’s speakers like the soft glow of Autumn, thanks to some mellow acoustic strumming and Young’s own inviting voice. Nearly every song on here just feels like coming home, in that poor a drink put your feet up and pat the dog sort of way.
Likewise “Look Out For My Love,” with its infectious chorus and harmonies deserving of CSN. Even the languid, easy going “Lotta Love” has classic written all over it, and a track Neil’s then girlfriend Nicolette Larson had discovered in his car as a demo tape. She also sings on the album, and a damn fine job she does too throughout, providing a perfect counterbalance to Young’s own unique timbre.
The languorous “Piece Of Mind” would have fit well alongside anything on Harvest, only the production here paints a far more cinematic picture, like Hank Williams doing the soundtrack to Gone With The Wind. Young gets all confessional on “Human Highway,” a song which was supposed to be the name of CSNY’s next album, a record which never transpired, and so was resurrected here. Neil sings “Now my name is on the line/How could people/Get so unkind” while some of Nashville’s finest provide backing.
Young and Larson duet on the plaintive, sentimental “Already One,” a ballad ripe with love and affection, before the innocuous “Field Of Opportunity” sees Neil in semi-Appalachian mode, followed by “Motorcycle Mama,” perhaps the oddest inclusion of the album, but serves as a decent distraction, albeit one with a more serious subject matter behind it (i.e. heroin). Neil concludes the LP with a cover of Canadian folk duo Ian & Stewart’s “Four Strong Winds,” a tune which could easily serve as an analogy for CSNY, yet also highlighting the strong artistic chemistry between Larson and Young.
Comes A Time is an extremely comfortable and satisfying album, and easily his most accessible since Harvest. One would think that after all the troubles Young had experienced over the previous several years, that he at least deserved some happiness in his life.