By Zachary Stryffeler
Neil Young’s new album Hitchhiker, previously recorded in 1976, showcases what makes him a truly stellar performer. The first song on the album is “Pocahontas,” a known Young classic. This, coupled with his legendary “Powderfinger,” starts the ball of hits rolling slowly on, with Neil banging out a nautical-sounding “Captain Kennedy.” The waves of the ocean can almost be heard in Young’s six-string plucking. The guitar in “Captain Kennedy” has the iconic Young sound from his best era in the ‘70s.
“Hitchhiker” is mainly comprised of previously released material besides two new songs, “Hawaii” and “Give Me Strength.” These two new songs work their way up the list of great Neil Young songs. “Hawaii” has echoes of “Heart of Gold” while maintaining a new and upbeat feel. The real golden track on the record, however, is “Give Me Strength.” This new song is everything that Neil Young fans recognize from his peak years. The great acoustic melody along with his bitingly true and haunting lyrics combine to make it one of his best tracks. The album itself is very similar to Young’s live performance on the BBC In Concert Series in 1971. The same live and solo feel is captured on “Hitchhiker.”
Young’s performance of “Ride My Llama” is heavy, burdened and gives the track a drug-fueled sense of slow but deliberate playing and singing. This leads right into the title track, “Hitchhiker.” This song recounts Neil’s struggle with drug addiction throughout his young life. He talks of his stoned-out trip down from Canada in a van to Los Angeles. The song chronicles the first time he used heavy drugs like cocaine and hash, and culminates with heart-wrenching sadness of how he was unable to sign his autograph or appear on TV due to his addiction. “Hitchhiker” is definitely one of the top tracks on the album. The emotional songwriting is truly a traditional Young masterpiece, with themes of drug abuse stressed throughout, as seen in Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World.
Young then slows down his acoustic trip with the emotionally and politically charged “Campaigner.” Young’s message resonates: “Even Richard Nixon has got soul/ sounds like a funeral call.” This message is all too prevalent with our current political climate. Neil then launches into one of his most known tunes, “Human Highway.” The acoustic solo feel of the album gives the track a closer sound than some other recordings of his. He closes the album with a piano piece entitled “The Old Country Waltz.” This is a fitting ballad to close the album. It has the same subdued energy of “Journey Through the Past.”
All in all, Hitchhiker is a true treasure from the Neil Young vault. It’s great to hear more music from a legend in his prime. With any luck, we might see a few more Young albums roll out of storage if this one is a success commercially.