Monday, July 31, 2006

Heart of Gold

I love Neil Young. If you were to ask me my favourite musician, I'd probably have a different answer each time you asked. But Neil would always be in the top of the top. Of the hundreds of concerts I've attended, Neil Young's performances have never failed to amaze - and they still resonnate with me after all this time. So, when I heard that Jonathan Demme had created a film document of Neil Young's recent "Prairie Wind" album, I was caught up.

Neil's no stranger to the cinema. His music has featured prominently in a number of films (either individual songs, or complete scores), and he's been the subject of more than a few concert films (the downright shockingly perfect Rust Never Sleeps, and Jim Jarmusch's Year of the Horse are thrilling documents of Neil's sometime (and raucous) backing band Crazy Horse).

But what makes this latest feature so captivating is it's location and context. Filmed at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium (home of the Grand Old Opry), this concert is something of a homecoming - and it feels intimate, downhome. There's a sobering tenderness to the proceedings that one simply cannot deny (especially since we're hit with it in the first moments of the film). "Prairie Wind" was written and recorded as the recollections of man looking back over his life with a strong sense of mortality. Just days before entering the studio, Neil collapsed with a brain anuerysm. Having the time and musicians already booked, he decided to soldier on and record the album before having his surgery - not knowing the outcome (thankfully, it was a favorable prognosis). The resulting concert, recorded just weeks later, is a triumphant return to form. Highlights include some of his best recent songwriting such as the "The Painter", and classics such as "I am a Child," "Heart of Gold," "Comes a Time" and a great cover of "Four Strong Winds." Intermittently, Neil adds color to the songs by talking about their context - something he rarely does. A real treat.

4 out of 5 stars


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