The roots of the ongoing collaborations between director Jonathan Demme and rock legend Neil Young could be traced back two decades ago, when the former asked the latter to write a song for Demme's Oscar-winning film Philadelphia. Through two other films (including the excellent Heart of Gold) Demme has shown the work of Young in a way that others may not have been previously exposed to, and with this latest film featuring Young titled "Journeys," this is another solid entry into the lineup.
The premise behind the film is simple: with his older brother Bob leading the way, Young drives a 1956 Crown Victoria (with Demme in the car helping some discussion points along) from his hometown in Omemee, Ontario, Canada, down to Toronto, where Young's 2011 solo tour ended at the venerable Massey Hall. The film is a mix of Young's recollections about his youth and his family growing up and the songs from those shows, with the frequency of the songs increasing the closer Young gets to the show. The set list of the disc is a good one, with a mix of standards by Young and some unreleased tunes which sound great. They include the following:
"Peaceful Valley Boulevard"
"Down By The River"
"Sign Of Love"
"Love And War"
"After The Gold Rush"
"I Believe In You"
"My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)"
"You Never Call"
"Walk With Me"
The songs themselves are quality and include gentle emotional prods by Demme to increase their already high level of effectiveness. During the playing of "Ohio," Demme includes the names and faces of those who died during the Kent State shootings of 1970 to add an additional layer of significance and anger for those who perhaps may not have been familiar to the events. Just before "Leia" we see home video of a child playing at a piano before Young enters the performance. In another song, Demme lets Young walk out on stage, enjoy the applause, sit down and get a harmonica ready for a tune. Watching this switch turn on is really something to behold.
Almost as entertaining is watching Young drive through the Ontario countryside on the way to the GTA. Seeing him walk around the land that used to be his childhood home, talking about spending evenings in a pup tent outside the house and waving to his parents to indicate he was awake. Considering Young's already prodigious storytelling by lyric, they tend to possess a level of poignancy about them that is easy to dismiss but shouldn't.
At 67, Neil Young shows no signs of slowing down, and in Journeys, this look at his origins from Young himself proves to serve as a touch point to some of his music. This journey may only last 90 minutes, but there are others to take with the artist that should be rewarded, and this is as good a place to start as any.
Journeys is presented by Sony in 1.78:1 widescreen and uses the AVC codec. Appearing in 1080p, the image detail is ample and the black levels are somewhat consistent, with occasional bouts of crush during the performances. I will say that for a creative choice I could have done without seeing a close-up of Young's whiskered face singing lyrics in high definition, but the disc dutifully replicates the journey and the concert effectively with little image processing qualms to carry over.
The disc comes with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless surround track that is a powerful one to be sure. Even in the softer songs, the reverb that comes through the PA and extends to the home theater is ominous, like a monster roaring just under the surface. The haunches of the low-end are ample but do not squash the clarity of the songs during their playing, and the quieter songs sound great. While there is no crowd noise to serve as a compass point for the listener, the performances feel easily immersive. The scenes on the road tend to suffer a touch, in part because the soft-spoken Young in a car with the window open tends to be a chore to listen to, but otherwise the sound on the songs in stellar.
On the surface there may not be a lot here worth crowing over, but upon further examination the substance is quite good. "Journey to Slamdance" is a part discussion, part Q&A session with Demme and Young (35:35) where the idea of the film is discussed, the album idea is recalled, and Demme talks about his goals for the film. Young's thoughts on the music landscape and the growing power of the artist are also shown too. It is a fascinating discussion to listen to. Just as much so is a separate talk at 92Y with the pair (33:32), which covers some of the same ground but has a more humorous slant during the discussion and covers more of Young's career and influences. "Making Journeys" (6:35) appears to be a junket interview that is topical and includes thoughts on each person by the other, while the trailer (2:04) closes things out.
Journeys featuring Neil Young is just that, and a good one to boot. Jonathan Demme's quiet approach to letting Neil tell the story in the car and later in a music hall is fascinating, powerful and excellent in its approach. Technically the disc is good and from a supplemental perspective the discussions are fun and often times informative. For fans of Young this is a no-brainer to pick up, but for those looking for a change of musical pace or for fans of him from afar (like myself), this is definitely a nice stroll through the town and the catalog.