Whether by intent or necessity (it was later revealed that at this time Neil Young was coming to terms with being the parent of a seriously disabled child; and we have some knowledge of how draining, physically and mentally, that can be) "Hawks & Doves" bears the devil's mark of "contractual obligation". Not without some justification: it was to be his final album for Reprise before jumping ship for an ill-fated run with Geffen Records. It must have come as a grave disappointment for Young's loyal fan base, or whatever of it remained, coming as it did after two albums ("Comes A Time" and "Rust Never Sleeps") that suggested that Young had pulled himself out of the malaise of the Ditch Trilogy (proved by time not to have been a malaise at all, especially so with "On The Beach", perhaps now recognised as Young's crowning achievement) and got his career back on an upward path.
It is, unequivocally, a very slight record, clocking in at barely 30 minutes, with four songs that failed to make the cut on previous albums and an entire side of seemingly tossed-off knee-slappin' hoedowns.
Yet, perhaps on account of its brevity, I find it hard to get too cranky about this record. It has a good-natured spirit, a lightness of touch, a degree of "bounce", perhaps, which makes its short playing time pass like a breeze.
There is a song called "Lost In Space" which sounds at one point like Neil is auditioning for the Franciscus Henri circuit. "The Old Homestead" occupies a quarter of the album, and amounts to a shaggy dog story (not so far away from "After The Goldrush", if you think about it) involving naked riders, telephone booths, prehistoric birds and someone or something called "the shadow" -- the kind of thing that could easily have been a fever dream brought about by too much spicy food. It may or may not include a dig at David Crosby. It does include a musical saw, an instrument that always puts me in mind of Mercury Rev's "Deserter's Songs", which is a record I am always happy to be put in mind of.
I will neatly sidestep the politics of the five songs on side two. It is not possible, though, whether you agree with the sentiments or not (assuming you can figure those sentiments out), to fail to sing heartily along with the "You Ess Ayyyyy, You Ess Ayyyyy" backing vocals on the title track (which also features one of the few appearances on the album of Young's trusty electric guitar).
Today's song, though, is the final number from the first side, "Captain Kennedy". It is very simple. Just Young and his acoustic guitar. He underplays the vocals, to the song's detriment. I would love to hear this covered by somebody like Mark Lanegan. Or Mick Harvey. I think either of them would really bring it to life.
There are roughly ten thousand people doing this song on the YouTube, but none of those people are Neil Young, and all should be avoided. They are not what I had in mind at all. Instead, you can, for a short time, download it here (right click etc).