Toast

“Goin’ Home” and “How Ya Doin’” are similarly of a piece with their final forms. The former, the only track on the original album to feature Crazy Horse instead of the M.G.s, sounds, predictably, like the same band playing the same song. The latter becomes slightly less interesting in its Toast incarnation, replacing the Tom Waits-like gravelly low register Young tried out on the Are You Passionate? version with his usual clear-throated tenor. It’s impressive that Crazy Horse were able to pull off the style of Are You Passionate? so well, but their adeptness raises an issue. Some roughness around the edges might have made these previously released tracks a little more distinctive; their surprising slickness means there’s little compelling reason to put them on over the better-known versions.

Three songs from the Toast sessions didn’t make the cut for Are You Passionate?, and they appear as studio versions for the first time here. “Standing in the Light” sounds like cheap beer and fast cars, with a dumb-fun fuzztone riff and not much going on songwriting-wise beyond that. “Timberline” is in a similar hard-rocking lane, but with more interesting lyrics, sung from the perspective of a logger who loses his job, and consequently, his faith in God. “Gateway of Love” is the best of the unreleased tracks, a 10-minute guitar workout that differentiates itself from the many similar odysseys in the Horse catalog with a Latin-feeling polyrhythm instead of their standard four-four stomp. It’s easy to understand why Young felt these songs didn’t fit in with the lovelorn mood of Are You Passionate?, but they’re all worth hearing at least once.

The most compelling reason to give Toast a spin is “Boom Boom Boom,” its 13-minute closer. Structurally, it isn’t much different from “She’s a Healer,” the nine-minute version on Are You Passionate?, which is among the jazziest tunes in Young’s canon, cycling between a menacing one-chord vamp and a more harmonically elaborate instrumental refrain, with plenty of group improvisation throughout. But its arrangement on Toast is richer and stranger, piling on layers of seasick piano and trumpet. And in contrast to the rest of the Are You Passionate? tracks on Toast, Crazy Horse’s playing is noticeably rawer and more exploratory than the M.G.s’ later take, always on the verge of falling apart, without the glue of Booker T’s organ holding everything in place. The precarity of the performance is suited to Young’s songwriting, which addresses his attachment to a woman who may or may not be ready to dump him. “There ain’t no way I’m gonna let the good times go,” he sings repeatedly, a line that might strike an inattentive listener to Are You Passionate? as a straightforward call for celebration. On Toast, there’s no mistaking it for anything other than the desperate plea it is.

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Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Toast