After releasing their classic debut on Reprise back in 1970, Crazy Horse underwent some serious changes in personnel. Guitarist Danny Whitten got kicked out for substance abuse, keyboardist Jack Nitzsche left to focus on his highly-successful career as composer and producer, and occasional Horse cohort Nils Lofgren got sucked into a promising solo career before eventually finding berth in a top dollar position backing Bruce Springsteen. The result was that Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina – band mainstays to a degree that they have pretty much become Crazy Horse – decided to call up their former Rockets compatriot George Whitsell and rewire the group. It would be foolish to claim the ensuing record, 1972’s scatter-shot country-rocker Loose, is anywhere as good as its predecessor, but it’s nowhere near the disappointment its neglected position in Horse history has led some to claim it as.
What we have here is a solid collection of 1970s Canyon stompers and Zuma beach jams, pulling the spirit and sound of the band’s first album into a slightly lower register and trading in a bit of the garage-band cackle for a smooth, whiskey-soaked groove. This is by no means a tamed Horse, as some might lead you to believe, but rather one that’s learned the ropes a little and has decided to switch pastures before getting ground up in Los Angeles smog. “She Won’t Even Blow Smoke In My Direction,” a seemingly insignificant one-and-a-half minute instrumental coda to the record, actually does everything to sum up this new Crazy Horse cool: loose, laid back groove, raw, twangy guitar and the “hell, might as well switch on the tape recorder” spirit that has always been the band’s modus operandi.
A reference point for some of the material might be the New Riders of the Purple Sage, especially on the mellow shuffle of “One Thing I Love” (very obvious shades of Sage ballads like “Last Lonely Eagle” here) and the barroom ramble “You Won’t Miss Me,” which features tasty pedal steel licks and honky tonk piano. “Hit and Run” is pure Horse, however; it would be hard to mistake those ragged harmonies and that classic rhythm section beat with any other group. Numbers like this help bridge the new, sleepier approach to the band’s prior incarnation, and perhaps even hint at where Horse catalyst (and arguably, founder) Neil Young’s own music was meandering around this time. Those missing the jams that defined the Horse’s original work on Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere might be reassured to come to “All the Little Things,” which has some great guitar playing that, while remaining distinct, does occasionally slip into some Neil-style, one-note growls.
Loose has been reissued on compact disc twice: once in 1998 and, more recently, by Wounded Bird Records in 2006. Both of these are out of print, however, and commanding ridiculous sums. You’d be much better off tracking down an original vinyl copy, which occasionally finds its way into record store cut-out bins. If you’re a Horse fan, bite the bullet and give some of this mid-period material a shot. Though Whitten and latter-day Horse mainstay Frank “Poncho” Sampedro may be absent from the proceedings, this is a worthwhile chapter in the band’s history that has remained sorely overlooked.
Original Vinyl | 1972 | Reprise | search ebay ]