Zuma (1975)

Zuma (1975)

In many ways the quintessential mid-’70s hard rock album, Zuma is Neil’s ‘dude record.’ Recorded in Malibu, of all places, and presided over by the great David Briggs, Zuma is an extremely direct, almost reverb-free affair with a great live feel. The album captures Neil and Crazy Horse in a jubilant mood following several years of personal lows that resulted, for better or worse, in some of the most emotional and brilliant music of Neil’s career. Three songs on the previous year’s devastating On The Beach featured the word “blues” in their titles, but on Zuma, there is just one, and despite its lyrics of nightmares and dying a thousand deaths, the ecstasy that runs through “Barstool Blues” is palpable. The good-time vibe of the album can at least partially be ascribed to Crazy Horse’s newest member, the outrageous Frank “Poncho” Sampedro, who replaces the late Danny Whitten on guitar, and brings with him a devil-may-care optimism that would help counter some of Neil’s dark tendencies for years to come. The album reconciles many of Neil’s moods, spanning subtle acoustic fare (“Pardon My Heart” and “Through My Sails,” featuring Neil’s then-former bandmates Crosby, Stills and Nash), playful throwaways (“Drive Back,” “Stupid Girl”) and landlocked surf guitar downers (“Dangerbird”). Mostly, though, Zuma orbits around the impressionistic “Cortez The Killer,” a guitar epic that effectively redefines psychedelia for an emerging generation that was, by now, in closer temporal proximity to video games than to bell-bottoms. For this song’s inclusion alone, Zuma is a pinnacle.

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