Friday, April 16, 2010

Neil Young 35: Prairie Wind

Things were suddenly quiet on the Neil front halfway through the new decade. Another step toward a possible Archives realization came with the release of Greatest Hits. Eleven of the 16 songs came from the fertile two-year period from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere to Harvest, and only one song each from the ‘80s and ‘90s. Meanwhile, in the real world, he had just completed recording a country album when he had an aneurysm. Plus, his father died.
Prairie Wind is more easy listening in the mode of Comes A Time, Harvest Moon and Silver & Gold. Recorded entirely in Nashville, the sound is predominantly acoustic, with the occasional fuzzy steel guitar and much better use of Memphis horns than was on Are You Passionate?
“The Painter” opens the proceedings with a portrait of an artist utterly devoted to her craft. Is he singing about Joni, his daughter Amber, or himself? “No Wonder” sports a classic plucked acoustic intro before a lyric influenced by current events gets swept away by a truly picturesque soundscape underpinned by organ and slide. “Falling Off The Face Of The Earth” is a timely reminder to tell your loved ones how you feel, just in case you leave them first. “Far From Home” is one of the jauntiest celebrations of youth and death we can think of. The mood turns to sweeter reverie on “It’s A Dream”, which may or may not be real.
The title track rumbles across the same three chords for six minutes, with an acknowledgement that his father was about to die. “Here For You” brings us back to Harvest Moon territory, followed by a tribute to “This Old Guitar”. Elvis Presley is eulogized in one-liners for “He Was The King”, and just when you think this trip has gone off the map, it ends with a prayer of sorts. “When God Made Me” is a perfect distillation of “Imagine” and “Blowin’ In The Wind”, and while it might not become a standard, it is a bold yet obvious statement of the role of the individual in an increasingly uncertain world.
Prairie Wind didn’t break down any doors, but is the sound of a man determined to keep doing what he does, when he wants to, how he wants to. Neil knew he wouldn’t be around forever, and perhaps having glimpsed his own mortality, he also threatened to start putting out the long-promised Archives the following year. That didn’t exactly happen.

Neil Young Prairie Wind (2005)—3

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