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Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Americana

Neil Young is often my go to example of an older artist that hasn’t gone soft. Where so many other musicians lose their edge once they receive their AARP membership, Neil is just as rough around the edges as ever. Neil never hides behind studio tricks to improve his voice or even polish his sound. This can most notably be seen on his last solo effort Le Noise featuring no more than Neil and his sludgy axe. Americana is Neil’s latest joined by his old backup band Crazy Horse. The results are a jam based hard rock album centered around an unusual basis.

“Oh Susannah”, “Clementine”, “This Land is Your Land” are all tracks on Americana. “So it’s a cover album of American folk classics?” Not quite. At their core these are still the same American classics we all know but taken to new places. Aside from lyrics, these are essentially all new songs. The melodies are different, lyrics are shuffled around, and guitars are blazing. Additionally, Americana sounds like it was recorded live (with the exception of the some backing vocal overdubs).

By rearranging old classics, Neil transforms timeless folk songs into protest songs. Sometimes Neil even ditches key parts of the original song just to strengthen his message. Neil has never been one to sugar coat anything and on Americana he’s telling us that living in America is as tough as ever. Conceptually that’s a powerful idea but musically it’s uneven. The jam based rocking often goes on for far too long. Songs rarely wrap up under the five minute mark and my attention starts to wander. This would be fine if the musicianship was varied, but it’s usually the same part over and over again. In-between songs we hear Neil say things like, “I totally fucked that part up” or “You’re supposed to go to the F#m” the album is almost too casual.

It’s an interesting concept that has it’s moments, but also drags in many spots. I’m glad Neil found ways to build off old classics, but it still feels confined by the restraints of the original songs. Next time I’d much rather see Neil write some modern protest songs instead of re-working the songs we learn in elementary school.

Favorite Tracks: “High Flyin’ Bird”, “Oh Susannah” “Wayfarin’ Stranger”

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