Everyone reading this will know of Crazy Horse. Neil Young’s very own bone crunching band whom he wheels out when he needs to let his hair down. There’s no denying that they’ve been involved in some of Young’s most memorable moments and with their partnership going back over 40 years they are invariably caught up in Shakey’s story. Plucked from an LA band called the Rockets, Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina and Danny Whitton became Crazy Horse for Young’s Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere before adding Nils Lofgren and Jack Nitzsche to produce their own album, one of the finest debuts ever. And for most folk that’s the end of the Crazy Horse story apart from their regular gig with the man.
Lofgren and Nitzche went their separate ways and Whitton OD’d and was written into musical history via Young’s Tonight’s The Night. With Young zooming towards fame with Harvest Talbot and Molina scrabbled together a new line up releasing Loose, an album that soon cluttered up cut out bins in record stores with Robert Christgau calling it “the most disappointing follow-up in memory.” Undeterred the Horse again regrouped adding brothers Rick (vocals, rhythm guitar, banjo) and Michael Curtis (vocals, piano, organ, guitar and mandolin) and Greg Leroy (vocals, lead guitar, bottleneck guitar) and recording At Crooked Lake which was released on Epic Records in 1972 to general indifference. Normally they shoot horses past their best but this one was pardoned when Talbot, Molina and new guitarist Frank Sampedro were recruited by Young for his Zuma album. Rejuvenated they even produced a cracker of an album, Crazy Moon with Young playing guitar all over it. Again it sank like a stone but is well worth checking out.
Anyway, this is all a fairly long winded way to say that At Crooked Lake is being reissued by Retroworld allowing folk who want to delve into the Horse to avoid exorbitant prices for previous out of print copies. “Is it any good?” we ask. Well our answer is a qualified yes. Anyone looking for the Whitton/Nitzsche brilliance of the first album will be disappointed and there’s none of the pile driving thunder demanded of Young. In fact apart from the presence of the Talbot and Molina rhythm section it’s probably best to ignore the brand name and approach this as an opportunity to hear another unearthed example of early seventies west coast rock. With the majority of the songs written by either the Curtis brothers or Leroy ( all of whom faded into history although Rick Curtis dallied with the fledgling Fleetwood Mac LA version) there’s a definite sense of the pot pourri music of the time as they dip their toes into country rock, FM friendly rock boogie and CSNY like harmonies. It has to be said that if you crank this up it does transport the listener to the early seventies with the band coming across as a blend of Poco and Grin. The opener, Rock and Roll Band, nails their colours to the mast with fine harmonies and guitar duelling, the type of music the fictitious Stillwater played in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous movie. It’s an invigorating start. Love Is Gone dapples acoustically with some fine acoustic slide while We Ride channels Steve Stills and Dave Crosby to a tee. There’s a couple of gurney country romps present with Outside Looking In sounding like a rough and ready Ringo Starr while 85 El Paso’s floats away on a boozy country vibe. Don’t Keep Me Burning unfortunately falls into generic boogie territory while Lady Soul is packed with clichés that don’t really hold sway these days. Don’t Look Back is a tub thumper of a song (although again the lyrics show their age) with some savage guitar licks but the overall beauty here is the simple acoustic ballad, Your Song which is graced by the pedal steel of Sneaky Pete Kleinow.
Overall a minor entry in the seventies soft rock canon but a welcome opportunity to grab a small piece of the Neil Young jigsaw for those inclined.