Friday, June 8, 2012

Neil Young 44: Americana

Somebody, we’re not sure who, made the point that Neil plays with Crazy Horse because their inherent lack of chops make him sound good. That’s not the fairest thing to say. They’re obviously guys he enjoys hanging out with; otherwise, it’s doubtful he would have kept sending them checks for over forty years.
Still, one doesn’t listen to a Neil and Crazy Horse album for technical brilliance. They deliver a consistent feel, loose but not out of tune. The rhythm may rush here and there, and they may play wrong chords, but they’re always in pitch. And when Neil wants to work quickly, sometimes they’re the men for the job.
Who knows if Americana, a collection of folk songs and covers, was a concept he had before calling the boys in to record? Whatever the story, what sounds like a joke on paper turns out to sound exactly like you’d expect: Neil Young and Crazy Horse stomping their way through the likes of “Oh Susannah”, “Clementine” and “This Land Is Your Land”. His Harry Smith-like liner notes carefully describe the history of each song, as well as who came up with the arrangement. The sound sits somewhere between the incessant drive of Ragged Glory and the country stomp of American Stars ‘N Bars.
Neil being Neil, Americana is both a celebration of history, as well as a protest album. “Travel On” gets a sly reference to war, while “This Land Is Your Land” includes some of the more defiant, lesser-known verses (plus cameo appearances by Pegi Young and Stephen Stills). The closing “God Save The Queen”—just in time for her sixtieth jubilee celebration!—becomes a medley of the original anthem every Canadian schoolboy would know with a verse from “My Country ‘Tis Of Thee”.
Except for a mildly unobtrusive choir added later, it’s performed live, with mistakes intact, and a few seconds of studio chatter between tracks. The most successful songs are those not as widely known, like “High Flyin’ Bird” and the acoustic “Wayfarin’ Stranger”. “Tom Dula” is supposedly played in the same arrangement as Neil’s first band, while “Jesus’ Chariot”, based on “She’ll Be Comin’ Round The Mountain”, is also drastically overhauled while still recognizable. Either the best or worst song on the album is “Get A Job”, the doo-wop classic that explains how Crazy Horse never made it as a vocal harmony group before Neil found them.
Americana is not a major statement, and will likely never be revered as a high point of the pantheon. Nor should it be. But it’s still proof that there’s life left in the old bastard, and he will just keep playing until he drops. We hope.

Neil Young with Crazy Horse Americana (2012)—3

1 comment:

  1. Crazy Horse is a great band, I have little respect for the opinion of anyone who can't hear that. Not every rock band needs to play like Yes or King Crimson. Their chops may be rudimentary, but the result is almost always powerful and compelling.

    FYI, Neil did an interview on Fresh Air with Terry Gross (NPR) to promote the album. He said quite bluntly that he wanted to do an album with Crazy Horse, but didn't have any new songs, so they decided to do this. I guess when you're Neil Young you don't have to be ashamed to admit you didn't have any new songs.