Neil Young revisits key songs in retro recording-booth album
Everything old becomes new again: Poloroid cameras, 10-speed bikes, vintage t-shirts and now something called a Voice-O-Graph.
A relic of yesteryear, this instant, vinyl-producing recording booth was unveiled on The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon this week tied to Canadian music icon Neil Young's visit to promote his new album A Letter Home, produced by Jack White's Third Man Records. (And this was the real Neil Young and not a disguised Fallon singing Willow Smith's Whip My Hair).
Young and White demonstrated the Voice-O-Graph by instantly cutting the former's live performance of the classic tune Crazy onto vinyl.
What's the backstory? Producer and performer White had spent a year and a half restoring the 40s-era Voice-O-Graph, which he unveiled in time for people to try on Record Store Day in 2013. It just happens that Young was in town and also wanted to sample the retro recording booth.
"I went in there and did it and then I thought and said to Jack, 'I could do an album in there,'" Young recalled.
Fast-forward a year and Third Man Records is now releasing A Letter Home — recorded entirely inside the Voice-O-Graph.
The lo-fi audio is a novelty, for sure. The imperfect and scratchy tracks are infused with bonafide hipster cool. But the project is also something meaningful for Young: it brought him back to his roots.
Featuring Young's spare acoustic performances of songs that influenced him growing up (including Bob Dylan's Girl From the North Country, Gordon Lightfoot's Early Morning Rain and Willie Nelson's On the Road Again), the album's nostalgic sound invokes something deeply personal — as if listeners are being transported back in time to when a teenaged Young was hearing songs that would shape the rest of his career.
The songs are by "musicians and singer-songwriters [who] would, you know, just be able to play their own instruments and sing by themselves and just deliver a song," Young told Fallon.
"That's why I did those songs: because they mean so much to me."
Following a soft launch on Record Store Day 2014 last month, A Letter Home is being re-released May 27.
Sure you could buy the basic CD or .mp3 versions, but if you want to keep channeling the retro vibe, fans can snag A Letter Home on 12" vinyl or the deluxe package, which includes vinyl records, a making-of DVD and — of course! — Polaroid snaps taped to the lid.
— By Adrienne Bernstein
Neil Young is seen recording inside the Voice-O-Graph booth at Third Man Records in Nashville and, inset, stepping out of the retro booth. (YouTube)
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