A Fireside Sessions-inspired EP proves that in these Times, the need for protest is as urgent as ever
Although protest music has played an important influence on rock ‘n’ roll for the better part of the past 60 years, it seems to have slipped further and further out of the musical mainstream of late, even in this most chaotic time in our nation’s history.
Neil Young is a clear exception, as he has always been. He’s never been reluctant to state his case with defiance and determination. As far back as his days with Buffalo Springfield, he could be counted on to bemoan the status quo. The first evidence of that was found in his classic composition, “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing,” a song that contained this particular stanza: “Singin’ the meaning of what’s in my mind, Before I can take home what’s rightfully mine, Joinin’ and listenin’, and talkin’ in rhymes, Stoppin’ the feeling to wait for the times.”
Artist: Neil Young
Album: The Times
Label: Reprise Records
★★★1/2 (3.5/5 stars)
Whether tallying the casualties at Kent State, decrying Bush Jr.’s actions in Afghanistan or bemoaning Monsanto’s aggressive takeover of America’s agricultural output, Young continues to imbue his activism with indignation.
Appropriately then, The Times, Young’s new seven song EP, becomes the latest in his continuing series of slams at the establishment. It also stands to reason that with all the turbulence and turmoil that’s besotted our national landscape, particularly in the crucial period prior to one of the most important presidential elections in modern history, that Young would opt to consolidate his stance by re-recording certain songs that continue to speak directly to the conflict and controversy the country still struggles with today. It finds Young giving them stark, solo acoustic readings culled from the streaming Fireside Sessions series he’s shared during the pause of the pandemic.
Sadly, they’re as pertinent as ever. Most will be familiar to all but the most casual fan, even in these stripped down settings. “Southern Man” and “Alabama” speak to the unbridled racism that continues to plague the nation decades after the Civil Rights movement aimed to eliminate it. “Ohio” grapples with the violence that finds peaceful protestors assailed and assaulted by the authorities. More to the point, “Campaigner,” with its cryptic references to Richard Nixon, and “Lookin’ For a Leader,” given an update from its original incision on Living With War to reflect Trump’s need for division and discord, rebooting his long-held disdain and disgust.
“I invite the President to play this song at his next rally,” Young said prior to the album’s release. “[It’s] A song about the feelings many of us have about America today…”
So true. One reason, he probably felt both qualified and compelled to cover Dylan’s perennial protest anthem “The Times They Are A’ Changin’” and his own “Little Wing” from 1980’s Hawks and Doves. With a tone and tenacity that are ever defiant, Young makes yet another case for retaining one’s convictions.
VIDEO: Neil Young “Lookin’ for a Leader 2020”