Record Reviews

Neil Young

Album: “Hitchhiker”

Grade: A

In 1976, Neil Young walked into a Malibu recording studio, armed with his acoustic guitar and harmonica, and laid down a bunch of tracks in a single session. They sat unreleased for more than 40 years until now. It was worth the wait.

Dubbed “Hitchhiker,” the 10-track archival release is a treasure trove for Young fans with two previously unreleased songs and intimate renditions of some of his best loved tunes.

One of those, “Powderfinger,” takes on a much more haunting tone than when it was officially released in 1979 with the full force and weight of Crazy Horse’s electric mayhem behind it. Two other songs that also later showed up on 1979’s “Rust Never Sleeps” get an early run-through here: “Ride My Llama” and “Pocahontas.”

No studio versions of “Hawaii” or “Give Me Strength” — a standout on “Hitchhiker” that Young has occasionally performed live — have made it out of the vault before.

“Captain Kennedy” didn’t make it onto a record until 1980, while the title track had a much longer wait. It didn’t appear until 2010’s “Le Noise,” and then in a dramatically altered form.

—Scott Bauer, Associated Press

Gregg Allman

Album: “Southern Blood”

Grade: A

Gregg Allman’s farewell album veers deeply into parting sentiment, but it also reminds us of what a singular talent we just lost when he died in May.

Farewell albums from musicians who know they are dying have become a thing of late. And Allman’s just might be the best of them.

“I hope you’re haunted by the music of my soul when I’m gone,” he sings on “My Only True Friend,” the only song he had a hand in writing. The lyric feels too literal, but soon the singing and playing that made Allman great transcend any maudlin tendencies.

The album soars with arrangements built to spotlight Allman’s singing. The McCrary Sisters and Buddy Miller sit in on several cuts, including a brilliant, horn-infused arrangement of “Black Muddy River.”

On the finale, Jackson Browne’s “Song for Adam,” Allman chokes up when he sings, “It still seems that he stopped singing in the middle of his song.” Was said Allman thought then of his brother, Duane Allman, who died at 24 at the peak of his power.

—Scott Stroud, Associated Press

The National

Album: “Sleep Well Beast”

Grade: B+

The world’s best rock bands are built on unique blends of talent and sound that set them apart from all of the others. And few bands have soared higher or set themselves apart more distinctively than The National.

With “Sleep Well Beast,” the band’s seventh studio album and first in four years, The National revives the distinctive vibe that led it to the forefront of 21st century arena rock bands. Familiar or not, these guys are good at what they do.

Pulsating bass and drums set a forward-leaning foundation for the band’s polished guitar-keyboard mix. Together they convey urgency, transporting listeners through mostly dark lyrics past a sonic backdrop that offers hope mainly because it’s on its way somewhere.

—Scott Stroud, Associated Press

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