David Neil "The Wilderness Years"
by Steve Kilbey & Ricky Maymi


Blog Entry with Photos [archived]

The Wilderness Years is Steve Kilbey and Ricky Maymi's idea of a joke, and it's a pretty good joke too. Steve Kilbey apparently joins David Neil - an obscure failed rock star, for a U.S. tour in 1974. Soon after Neil has the "dubious distinction of dying three deaths at once." The songs on this album are supposedly Neil's songs that have been resurrected from unfinished tracks and lyric books. Never mind that below the hilarious liner notes it states - all songs: Kilbey/Maymi. For a brief moment at the record store they had me fooled.

So being a huge fan of both The Church (from where Kilbey hails, if you didn't know) and The Brian Jonestown Massacre (Maymi) it was a given that I'd be taking this particular record home. Unsurprisingly this record is a total gem. The songwriting is superb and it really does come across as a combination of their respective bands, although the sound does lean more towards that of The Church. Guitars chime and jangle, Kilbey sings with his bedside baritone and the melodies are superb, but also many of the songs have that slightly ramshackle chug that the BJM do so well.

Of the ten songs Hollywood Ending is an early highlight, with insistent vocals and fast acoustic rhythms giving way to a blissed out reverie and then back again. Walk With Me (note - the song is mis-labelled on this video) follows and it's a classic. Kilbey's singing is pleading and intimate and the female back up vocals are perfect. The other three tracks on side one are just as enjoyable and are typical of the songwriting consistency displayed by Kilbey over the years.

Side two begins with piano and the blissed-out country guitar stylings of Higher Than Yesterday. The tune has a melancholic feel and as usual with anything Kilbey writes it has quality lyrics. Lowboy is my favourite and it's catchy as hell. It comes across as a lost Church song and that is the great thing about this LP - it reminds me of the early to mid period Church albums before they got all atmospheric with Priest = Aura (1992). I really hope that Kilbey writes more songs with Maymi, as they obviously bring out the best in each other.

The Equator is a bittersweet lament with a perfect blend of acoustic and electric instruments and a nice backwards guitar interlude. Was There Ever features superb vocal interplay coupled with a minor key shuffle and slide guitar. The album ends with So Long, another classic of bittersweet understatement.

If you are a Kilbey/Church fan then this LP is an essential purchase. The album is one of those that you can play right through without worrying about having to skip a track or two. It's beautifully produced - warm and full with no sign of the over the top compression that spoils new releases these days (something you can blame on MP3s). The vinyl copy is a limited edition blood red pressing - check it out, it's beautiful and you know you need it.

★★★★★ (5 out of 5 stars)

I can't stop playing this phenomenal album. I'll play it 3 times in a row sometimes, which is something special I think. Mssrs Maymi & Kilbey have crafted a true masterpiece. They really have an ear for capturing the mood of rock classics from the 60's and 70's, and you can tell they have a love of rock and all its nuances. Every sound on this album seems lovingly created and really well thought out. The production on this is off the charts excellent. What's more, "The Wilderness Years" has more hooks than a bait & tackle shop, I kid you not! Every track is amazing (how many albums can you say that about? Not many). This music is so good it makes me want to cry--not because it's particularly sad or melancholy, but because it is so utterly perfect, and actually very upbeat and uplifting. Anyone who thinks "rock is dead," give this a spin. I'd give it 10 stars if I could!!!

The story behind this record is almost too outlandish to be believe. According to lore and the liner notes on the back of this album, David Neil was a Canadian acid-folk minstrel in the Gram Parsons mould, with an appetite for drugs as large as his capacity to churn out insightful, psychedelically tinged country tunes.

During a four year period from 1970 to 1974, Neil squandered every penny of his advance from his deal with Anchor Records on drugs and various affairs with bored housewives in Hollywood and Long Island. Nevertheless, he and his band toured relentlessly, working out the material that never actually got released.

During Neil's final tour in 1974, a young Steve Kilbey, the Australian bassist/vocalist who would later go on to form The Church in the early '80s, joined the band. This tour was cut short as Neil died an improbable death, according to the liner notes "the plane he was on crashed while at the time he was overdosing in the toilet while a jealous husband kicked in the door and gunned him down." Yes, those were the days before excessive TSA screenings.

Jump forward a couple of decades, when Kilbey acquired the master tracks of Neil's unfinished album. Many of the tracks were just sketches but featured Neil's distinctive Marc Bolan styled falsetto; and others were lacking vocals altogether. Kilbey managed to piece together the missing vocal tracks from memory and from a long lost lyric book of Neil's. Kilbey and Ricky Maymi (of Brian Jonestown Massacre fame) went into the studio to flesh out these tracks, recording all to tape and using vintage equipment wherever possible to achieve as close to the original sound that Neil was going for way back when.

The resulting album is a charming romp through Americana (or would that be Canadiana?) bittersweet, country-fried pop with bouncing basslines, gracefully rustic slide guitars, and a stoned-in-the-summertime vibe that's quite infectious. Limited edition [vinyl] private pressing from Kilbey and Maymi, who put a lot of love and heart into these recordings... and it shows!