a friend i’ve never seen

“neil closed out the record inventory, he closed the facebook countdown, he closed my high school years in georgetown, and he’s closing this book…”

“Country Girl” (Déjà Vu, 1970)

Steve Taton (Be the Rain, 2006)
Mike Durham (Be the Rain, 2006)

The original, from Déjà Vu, rarely gets mentioned in anything written about Neil Young, having long since been subsumed into the shadow of “Helpless” and the tracks that classic-rock stations cling to (“Woodstock,” “Teach Your Children,” “Our House”). I count it as one of his greatest songs—four minutes of opaque, orchestral doom-and-gloom, culminating in that ecstatic moment when everything breaks in half and the sun comes cascading through: “Country girl, I think you’re pretty…” Enough drama for Phil Spector, and when you compare it to the two aforementioned Graham Nash warhorses, well, you know that Neil and his bandmates weren’t really on the same page. Steve Taton tries to go it alone, and, as much as I applaud his calling attention to a neglected masterpiece, a substantively different song emerges: some of the moodiness remains, but the high drama’s absent. Mike Durham proceeds from something I’d forgotten, that “Country Girl” is technically comprised of three movements, each with its own subtitle (“Whiskey Boot Hill”/“Down, Down, Down”/“Country Girl (I Think You’re Pretty),” and he lifts out the middle section as a standalone. Strange, to say the least—everything’s build-up, stopping just short of the moment you live for in the original—but he actually gets much closer to what I love about the song.

river[Purple Words on a Grey Background—Neil Young covers, 2007]

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