Monday, June 04, 2012

Neil Young & Crazy Horse: "Americana" (album review)

When I heard that Neil Young was planning on releasing an album of nothing but covers of American folk standards, I was prepared to hate it.  I was prepared to tell old Neil to take some time off and not try to release an album every eight months.

One decision Young made changed all of that.  The decision was to record Americana with Crazy Horse.  Instead of the willowy folk we would've gotten with a solo Young record, which would've grated given the source material, we get a beefy rock album with arrangements that bring new life to these familiar songs.

The album opens with a couple of favorites: "Oh Susannah" and "Clementine".  The powerful overdrive guitar makes them dirty and gritty, but they manage to maintain their catchiness.

Let's face it, Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" is a terrible song.  It's sentiment is sickeningly naive.  However, the jaunty arrangements and kids' chorus make it palatable.  That same kids' chorus turns "Travel On" into an irresistible singalong.

Of course there has to be the track with the wandering guitar solo.  This time around it's the 8-minute plus "Tom Dula" that wears out its welcome.  The ominous "Wayfarin' Stranger" is a decent stab, but it's been done better before, notably by Johnny Cash, and Emmylou Harris.  "High Flyin' Bird" drifts along without any sense of direction.

There are a couple of odd selections.  I'm not sure how the doo-wop number "Get A Job" fits into the album's theme (it truly spoils the flow).  Nor am I certain how a rendition of "God Save The Queen" worked it's way onto the record.  Don't expect to hear that one during the London Olympics.

In all, Americana is far from the trainwreck I feared.  That's a reminder that Neil Young probably knows what he's doing by now.

Best tracks: "Jesus' Chariot", "Travel On"

Track listing for Americana:
  • Oh Susannah
  • Clementine
  • Tom Dula
  • Gallows Pole
  • Get A Job
  • Travel On
  • High Flyin' Bird
  • Jesus' Chariot
  • This Land Is Your Land
  • Wayfarin' Stranger
  • God Save The Queen

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