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Neil Young & Crazy Horse - 'Americana' Review

Neil Young and His Famous Bandmates Plow Through Some Golden Oldies

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating

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neil young crazy horse americana

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - 'Americana'

Photo courtesy Warner Bros.
Neil Young titled his 1990 album with his long-running backup band Crazy Horse Ragged Glory, and that’s an apt description for the tone of the music they’ve been making together since the 1970s. Lumbering, powerful, rough around the edges: All those qualities are brought to bear on Americana, a collection of folk standards that are transformed into stomping rock tunes. With his usual passionate commitment to doing things his way -- consequences be damned -- Young doesn’t reinvent these tunes as much as he runs them over with a truck of electric guitars and pounding drums, making them sound fresh and epic all at once.

Enjoying the Heresy

Americana is the first Young album to include all of Crazy Horse (guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro, bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina) since 1996’s Broken Arrow, and perhaps not surprisingly the two records have certain similarities. While Broken Arrow consisted mostly of new material, it too flaunted an unvarnished, first-take feel that suggested that Young and his cohorts weren’t overly concerned with precise arrangements. Rather, they just wanted to bang out the album’s scruffy tunes, piling on the solos as they went. Broken Arrow was a sloppy but lovable minor disc, and the same could be said for Americana. Certainly, the new album will enrage folk fans who want to hear “This Land Is Your Land” as it was done by Woody Guthrie. (Likewise, those who buy the album thinking that “God Save the Queen” is the Sex Pistols tune will be shocked that it’s instead a riff on the original 18th century British anthem.) But you sense that Young is savoring the heresy he’s committing, once again establishing his bona fides as one of rock music’s most enduringly idiosyncratic figures.

Into the Groove

As one might expect, Americana works best when Young and his bandmates launch into a deep groove that feels organic to the original song. “Oh Susannah,” like several tracks on the album, unearths verses that most of us don’t remember from childhood and in the process creates a rumbling, urgent song about reconnecting with a lost love. Because their style lacks flash, Neil Young & Crazy Horse have to wow you with their gargantuan power chords and heavy bottom section, and on Americana they prove up to the task on a consistent basis. Whether it’s on “Jesus’ Chariot,” which is better known as “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain,” or the 1950s R&B hit “Get a Job,” the band members split the difference between playful irreverence and ace musicianship. And once you get on the group’s wavelength, Americana asserts itself as a loving salute to these golden oldies, buoyed by these veterans’ sludgy, compelling stomp.

Keep Rollin' Along

Young turns 67 in November, and while it could be argued that he hasn’t made a classic album in many a moon, a record like Americana indicates he hasn’t run out of ideas or conceptual ambitions. Several Young albums have a sonic or thematic principle tying them together, and with Americana he seems intent on making the listener appreciate the meanings behind these forgotten chestnuts. Specifically, he’s peeling away their jolly sing-along quality to get to their brutal essence. The stripped-down “Wayfarin’ Stranger” and the raging “Clementine” are at their heart sad tales of woe, and Young’s version of “This Land Is Your Land” restores some of its defiance. It may not be the most novel approach for a covers album -- putting some oomph into familiar old tunes -- but when Young latches onto an idea, he attacks it with all his strength. Consequently, Americana stands as one of his more notable recent efforts. He’s plugging into the passion and timelessness of these songs, and what comes out may not be revelatory, but it’s certainly rollicking.

'Americana' - Best Tracks:

“Oh Susannah” (Purchase/Download)
“Get a Job” (Purchase/Download)
“Jesus’ Chariot” (Purchase/Download)
“God Save the Queen” (Purchase/Download)
“High Flyin’ Bird” (Purchase/Download)

Release date – June 5, 2012
Reprise Records

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