Fred Neil. 38 MacDougal. Delmore Recording Society

Initially released on last November’s Record Store Day, on clear vinyl, 38 MacDougal was considered by some Fred Neil fans as something of a holy grail. An intimate glimpse of the man back in 1965, recorded in a friend’s apartment as Neil was in the throes of recording his official solo debut. It’s now being given a CD and digital release for those who weren’t able to grab a copy in the first instance.

Neil was the most enigmatic of the Greenwich Village singer/ songwriters who followed in Dylan’s footsteps and, in comparison to Tim Buckley, Phil Ochs and Tim Hardin, his recorded output is minimal. After an initial joint album with Vince Martin, released in 1964, he released two other studio discs and a live album before retiring to Florida in the early ‘70s to work with his dolphin research project. Despite this, Neil was a major figure in the sixties music scene and several of his songs have achieved fame after being covered by other artists. Chief among these is of course, Everybody’s Talkin’ due to Harry Nilsson’s take on it on the soundtrack to Midnight Cowboy.

38 MacDougall was recorded on a reel-to-reel tape in a New York apartment shared by Neil’s long time buddy and accompanist, Peter Childs and John Sebastian of The Loving Spoonful. Neil, reportedly, had fallen out with his producer, Paul Rothschild, and was threatening not to finish his album, Bleeker & MacDougal. Childs reckoned the best way to calm Neil down was just to play some songs together before coaxing him back to the official recording sessions. The tapes feature Neil on 12 string acoustic guitar with Childs on acoustic and electric guitars. Of the eight songs, five were to appear on Bleecker & MacDougall, and it’s instructive to hear them without the studio embellishments of the released record. Gone Again in particular has Childs on a wiry dobro giving the song much more of a “hobo” touch to it while Candy Man finds Childs scrubbing away on electric while Neil introduces the song with an ironic shout out to Dick Clark’ hit TV show.

Of note are the three songs here which didn’t appear on the studio album. Once I Had A Sweetheart finds Neil reaching back into tradition much as his contemporaries in the UK, Bert Jansch and such, were doing. Sweet Cocaine, later released on his 1966 self-titled album, loses the harmonica and is quite appealing in this rawer version. Finally, there’s Neil’s rendition of an old spiritual song, Blind Man Standing By The Road And Crying, a song he would perform live but never captured before on tape. This rendition is just perfect, with Neil’s deep baritone voice digging into the lyrics and sounding soulful and powerful, a post beat, Greenwich Village version of Paul Robeson.

You can buy the album here

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