Neil Young’s Silver & Gold at 20: A Combination That Still Shines

The spiritual follow-up to Harvest Moon remains one of Neil’s very best of his 21st century output

Back cover of Neil Young’s Silver & Gold

Is there any one still able to keep a count of the number of albums Neil Young has released over the past 50 plus years?

It remains a challenge by any measure, what with the studio sets, archival offerings and live efforts he busies his fan base with–often multiple times within the span of of a single year. Adding to the confusion is a seemingly schizophrenic stance, one that finds him nimbly switching from the frantic delivery of his work with Crazy Horse and alternately with Promise of the Real, to the mellow musings that still suggest he’s a forlorn folkie at heart. Add to that an even wider divide that has him coming across both as a political pundit and a wizened trad troubadour. And that doesn’t even account for his brief sojourns into rockabilly, electronica and the ramshackle weirdness that have also expanded his template at times. If Young’s intention is to constantly keep his audience guessing, suffice it to say he’s been super successful.

By the time Silver & Gold was released on April 25, 2000, Young had already accumulated some 23 albums, a fairly phenomenal number considering that he had yet to sufficiently venture into his vault. Nevertheless, it was an unexpected entry in many ways, given the fact that it came on the heels of three decidedly anthemic outings, starting with 1994’s Sleeps With Angels (with Crazy Horse) followed by 1995’s Mirror Ball (in the company of Pearl Jam) and culminating with 1996’s Broken Arrow (again with Crazy Horse). Nevertheless, Silver & Gold is best considered a sequel of sorts to Harvest Moon released eight years before, and Comes a Time, a prequel of that was 22 years old at the time and for, already half forgotten.

Neil Young Silver & Gold, Reprise 2000

Nevertheless, the connection Silver & Gold maintained to those past precedents was obvious. Like them, it was a set of songs that was unceasingly subdued. The bulk of the ten tracks were written over the span of the previous two years, although the title track was supposedly composed in 1981 and never released because Young said he was never satisfied with the results.

Unlike many of his other efforts, Silver & Gold didn’t yield any offerings that would become staples of his repertoire in later years. Still, there’s no denying the expressive emotions that stir such songs as its amiable opener, “Good To See You,” the casual caress of the title track, the soothing sentiment of “Daddy Went Walkin’,” and the plaintive pastiche of “The Great Divide.” Likewise, Young’s unapologetic ode to his former band, “Buffalo Springfield Again,” offers a tender touch of its own, a somewhat ironic sentiment considering the fact that Young was always the most resistant to any reunion.

Clearly though, Young had found himself nestled in comforting environs. With a backing band made up of several of his studio regulars — Ben Keith on pedal steel, Spooner Oldham contributing keyboards, Donald Duck Dunn on bass, Jim Keltner playing drums and the remarkable vocal harmonies from two of the best singers in the biz, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt — he fashioned a  sound that was both soothing and seductive. It resulted in a Juno Award nomination for “Roots & Traditional Album of the Year – Solo” in 2001, and though it failed to register a win, it was an apt possibility regardless.

Twenty years on, this offering is rarely included among Young’s more apparent career accomplishments. No matter though. In retrospect, it’s clear that Silver & Gold still shines.

 

 

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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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