While Crazy Horse have often been praised as one of America's great rock & roll bands, that's usually when they've been working in collaboration with fan, friend, and frequent patron Neil Young. On their own, Crazy Horse have recorded a handful of worthwhile albums, but they've never connected with audiences the same way they have when working with Young. Of course, it doesn't help that the band has never had a consistent frontman, guitarist, or songwriter of their own, with bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina the only musicians to play on every Crazy Horse album. (Original guitarist Danny Whitten died of a drug overdose in 1972, while Frank "Poncho" Sampedro has often drifted out of the group, usually to work with Young.) Crazy Horse's career has followed a strange and crooked path, but they've also made some fine music along the way, and Gone Dead Train is a compilation which attempts to make sense of the band's checkered recording history outside of their work with Neil Young (though his unmistakable guitar tone is apparent on several tracks here). Gone Dead Train features material from four of Crazy Horse's five albums (the band's wildly disappointing second album, Loose, has thankfully been ignored), and while each record has a distinct personality of its own, the sequence gives the material an admirable flow, from the gutbucket country-rock stomp of their self-titled 1971 debut to the "Neil Young without Neil Young" fury of 1989's Left for Dead. The disc also includes two cuts from the first and only album (released in 1968) by the Rockets, which featured Talbot, Molina, and Whitten before they formed Crazy Horse (and the woozy "Pills Blues" sounds like an uncomfortable foreshadowing of the drug problems that would take Whitten's life four years later). Gone Dead Train shows that Crazy Horse don't have to have Neil Young around to make great rock & roll records, and makes you wish they'd head into the studio on their own a bit more often.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming