Neil Young does Neil Young by sharing a familiarity factor and getting back on the Horse
Artist: Neil Young + Crazy Horse
Label: Reprise Records
★★★★ 1/2 (4.5/5 stars)
Spontaneity seems to serve Neil Young well. He, like most artists, are just natural chameleons, eschewing a familiar formula in order to detour in different directions.
David Bowie was the most profound example, and, to a degree, Lou Reed, Lady Gaga and Madonna fit that category as well. Another more obvious example would be Neil Young, a performer whose muse has taken him from strident garage rock to mellow folk, country, synths, heavy metal and political pontificating. It’s been a wild ride as far as old Neil’s concerned, and there’s rarely been an instance where his audiences successfully second guessed him or felt like they knew where he would go next.
Of course, eclectic artists tend to be more interesting and intriguing than those who follow a formula, one developed strictly for the sake of sustaining commercial appeal. Yet, like Young, experimental musicians can befuddle their followers and sometimes cause audiences to abandon them out of frustration, disinterest or simply the feeling that they’ve been left behind. There comes a point where fans demand favorite songs and styles, and if they’re not given them by their heroes, dissatisfaction will lead them astray.
It wouldn’t be wise to presume one can second guess any artist, much less Neil Young, but the fact that his new album, Colorado, seems such an apparent return to his roots could be construed as an attempt to regroup, reconsolidate and/or return to the old ways that were referenced in one of his album titles all those years ago. Simply stated, it’s classic Young, from the tender tones of “I Do,” “Rainbow of Colors” and “Think of Me,” to the darker designs of “Shut It Down,” the tellingly titled “Olden Days” and various sprawling epochs in between. With Crazy Horse back in tow, the sound is as effusive as ever, all vintage Young with the strains of earliest efforts a prominent part of the mix. It’s a welcome return, especially with Nils Lofgren back in the fold after nearly 50 years and Crazy Horse at full gallop after seemingly being supplanted by Young’s flirtation with the younger, more insurgent sounding Promise of the Real. Those that have longed for the classic Young of old have ample reason to celebrate this time around.
Of course, even those who have been dissatisfied with Young’s various twists in direction really have no reason to complain. His recent spate of archival albums — his live release Tuscaloosa, released mere months ago, being but one example — offers enough variety to satisfy anyone with the desire to — again, to borrow another vintage Neil title — journey through the past. The man may be bewildering at times, but he’s certainly prolific as well. Likewise, it’s nice to hear him in classic form as, pardon the pun, the Young of old. Happily ensconced in Colorado, where the album was recorded of course, he shares a sense of serendipity. It offers a clear feeling that while he was nestled in the mountains, he found a high peak all his own.
AUDIO: Neil Young + Crazy Horse Colorado (full album)