Comes a Time is a Neil Young album that rarely comes up in conversation when the artist is discussed. Recorded roughly over the course of two years, during which an album comprised of songs from two cancelled albums was released, this was Young’s first solo album of new songs in two years. It was delayed from it’s initial release date twice, first due to the addition of rhythm sections to the songs and second due to Young’s concerns with the audio quality, resulting in Young buying the first 200,000 LPs of the initial pressing. The album marks Young’s return to the country rock sound that made his album Harvest a big hit. However, Comes a Time does not share the success that Harvest had, as there aren’t any radio hits and only the title track is a fan favorite. Does the album manage to recreate the magic of Young’s biggest album or does it deserve its rather unknown status?
Comes a Time may feel like Neil Young returning to the Harvest blueprint but something is different this time. Young has changed. He’s older and he’s a bit rougher around the edges. He’s been changed after the events that prompted him making the collection of albums known as The Ditch Trilogy and even this return to the country rock sound reflects this. “I feel like going back, back where there’s nowhere to stay”. Young coos this on the opening track “Goin’ Back” along with Nicolette Larson, who provides backing vocals on nearly all of the songs on the album and while her support gives the album a much needed softness, there’s no denying the weariness Young has on this album.
Even when Young is covering a Canadian folk standard, it reflects this weariness. “I’ll look for you if I’m ever back this way,” sings Young on “Four Strong Winds” and it sounds cautionary despite the song’s initial resolve. On “Lotta Love” – which would become a top 10 hit for Nicolette Larson – Young is again cautious in his resolve, warning that “it’s gonna take a lotta love to get us through the night.” Where Harvest was introspective, Comes a Time is reflective. Where Harvest was looking to figure stuff out, Comes a Time is checking the results of what has transpired and is nervously unsure of the future. Simply put, this album lacks the optimism of Harvest, even at that album’s angriest.
While the reflection theme feels like this would make this album a dreary affair, it actually sounds more like the calm before the storm. As if Young needed a break. And that is what this album is. Comes a Time feels like Young taking a break after an exhausting experience. This album is filled with pleasant melodies and a pristine production that makes it easy on the ears, such as “Peace of Mind” which features a great vocal performance from both Young and Larson. Tracks like “Look Out For My Love” are given more sincere performances, thanks to the inclusion of Young’s backing band Crazy Horse performing them.
Unfortunately, Comes a Time also suffers from a lack of diverse songwriting. A lot of the songs will tend to meld into one another unless you listen intently, making the album as a whole not ideal for casual listening. Some songs at times sound a bit too much like each other, such as “Comes a Time” and “Fields of Opportunity.” Because of this, Comes a Time is not a very memorable album. Its songs sound better being listened to as a whole rather than individually. Sure there are stand out tracks, especially since the first half has stronger songs than the second, but none of them feel like their own entity, serving only to enrich the album as a whole.
While that does mean that Comes a Time is not one of Young’s strongest albums, it does show that even when taking it easy he is able to provide delightful and even meaningful music. The weariness and cautionary resolve help give the album depth and make it more than a compilation of toss away songs. However, Comes a Time fails to capture the sincerity and memorable songs that its inspiratory album Harvest had. In its place is a collection of well crafted songs that are pleasant to listen to but don’t welcome many repeat listens. Passable at worst, worth a listen at best, but never bad or great overall.