Release Date: Jun 5, 2012
Record label: Reprise
Genre(s): Folk, Americana, Pop/Rock, Alternative Folk
There's plenty to like about Neil Young and Crazy Horse's first work together for nine years, a collection of cover versions of essential American tunes. Some – openers Oh Susannah and Clementine, Jesus' Chariot (aka She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain) – acquire an ominous feel in the minor key, the guitars never far from overdriven, while This Land is Your Land is sweet and warm with harmonies. Gallows Pole is a country jaunt while the first whiff of an acoustic guitar comes in the penultimate number, Wayfarin' Stranger, which has a nicely understated vocal; Get a Job is a pleasingly shabby version of the Silhouettes' doo-wop classic.
It's been too long since Neil Young has gathered his grizzled cronies in Crazy Horse for one of their fraternal freak-guitar slopfests. Americana is the first full-on Horse album since the underrated 1996 gem, Broken Arrow. Nobody skewers expectations like Young, so there’s a catch: Americana has no Neil Young songs, just folk standards like "Oh Susannah" and "Clementine." No clever curation or Harry Smith-style crate-digging; as Young says, "They’re songs we all know from kindergarten." There's an undeniable WTF factor in hearing these Cub Scout singalong ditties drowned in guitar feedback and off-key yelling.
This far along in the career of one of the two or three most important artists in rock history – sure, debate me, but I’ll win – we have all come to expect diminishing returns. The Neil Young that changed the landscape of pop music with his contributions to Buffalo Springfield in the mid-1960s; who rebuilt garage rock in his own image with Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere as that decade closed; who established a new template for the patchwork record album a year later with the organized chaos of After the Gold Rush; the fearless man afeared who produced the run of exquisitely dark, penetrating masterpieces in the mid-1970s from On the Beach through Zuma; the re-energized megastar behind Rust Never Sleeps and Live Rust as that decade ended; the big, pulsing middle finger raised at the music industry that would play him for a cash cow through the 1980s; the man who was reborn “Godfather of Grunge” and reigned supreme through the early 1990s…has been somewhat less inspiring in the couple decades since. What happened? This: he mostly stopped writing good songs around 1996 when he released Broken Arrow, his last album of generally great material.
Only Neil Young could take the campfire chestnut “Oh, Susannah” and turn it into something that demands The Frug. But Young opens Americana, his folk’n’protest album conjured with Crazy Horse, with a herky jerky take on the classic that suggests gogo boots, kohl eyes and girls in body paint in cages. Don’t let the “b-a-n-j-o on my knee” fool ya.
Yes, his blood runs Canadian. But has anybody better embodied the spirit of ?classic American rock ?& roll than Neil Young? Americana is a flashback in more ways than one: Not only does it reconvene Young’s proto-grunge backing band Crazy Horse ?for the first time since 1996, but it also consists of reworkings of Dust Bowl-era folk tunes. Young clearly loves jamming with his favorite fuzzmongers again — there’s an unbridled glee that oozes between the blistering solos on sneering, sideways renditions of campfire sing-alongs like ”Oh Susanna” and ”This Land Is Your Land.” Even on the 66-year-old’s 34th album, Young still has fire in his belly and fun in his fingers.
Review Summary: Forever YoungHaving secured his legacy with his 1970s output, Neil Young has spent the past three decades mostly doing what we all dream of: anything he feels like. The 1980s saw him release albums such as Re-ac-tor, Trans and Everybody’s Rockin’, records that were legally troublesome and critically mauled. Still Young persisted and in recent years we’ve been privy to the lazy, shapeless Fork In The Road and the rough yet addictive Le Noise.So it’s with some measure of expectant trepidation that we welcome Americana into his sprawling canon.
Late-night comedian Jimmy Fallon gets a lot of mileage out of imitating Neil Young’s trademark whine in odd song choices. At first glance, you might consider the rock veteran’s new album, Americana, to be particularly ripe for parody, considering the set contains such seemingly tame, un-Young-like classics as “Oh Susannah” and “This Land Is Your Land. ” Any chuckling fades away pretty quickly once Young and Crazy Horse, his reunited partners in crime, sink their teeth into the groove of opening track “Oh Susannah.
Armed with this knowledge, fleeting moments provide a genuine sense of musical heritage seeping from the compositions. Young seems to have caught a spirit no longer present and Crazy Horse helps him capture them on tape. Certainly, Americana is its own welcome portal for reminiscence. As an album, though, it gives us songs more memorable for their grizzly narrations or the occasional doo-wop harmony than the steady performances of mostly standard-format jams.
Surely Neil Young must be off his rocker. For his first album in nearly 9 years with Crazy Horse, the band that began its association with Young with epic, career-defining tracks like "Down By the River" and "Cowgirl in the Sand" and cemented its legacy in albums like Rust Never Sleeps and 1990's Ragged Glory, Young has decided to record an album of classic American compositions. Songs like "Oh Susannah" and "This Land Is Your Land.
Depending on who you talk to, Neil Young might be described as a folk-rock icon, a legendary singer-songwriter, the Godfather of Grunge, or a large number of other superlative-genre combinations. What’s so astounding is that they’re all correct in their own right. Taking on 11 songs that Young says “we know from kindergarten” and turning them into rock songs, Americana makes one wonder if they are looking to add something new to the list.
Neil Young's legend has essentially been built through obfuscation; he's accumulated one of the most celebrated yet byzantine songbooks in rock by impulsively shifting course album to album, whether it means periodically alienating fans, band mates, and record labels alike. But when it comes to covering other people's songs, he's an unabashed populist. "Blowin' in the Wind", "All Along the Watchtower", "A Day in the Life", "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay", "On Broadway", "Four Strong Winds"-- Young is obviously not the sort of artist who selects covers to reveal something new about himself, or to prove how cool his record collection is.
Neil Young fans are used to highs and lows when following the man’s career, but he’s probably not delivered both in such rapid fashion as when Americana was announced earlier this year. After a couple of decent-ish albums, the great man is recording with Crazy Horse again! Whoop! This is going to be awesome, can’t wai… what’s that? It’s an album of covers that includes versions of ‘She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain’ and ‘God Save The Queen’? Despite initial impressions, and despite the presence of those particular tracks, Neil isn’t doing this just to spite his fans or as some sort of elaborate joke. Think of it more along the lines of a particularly Neil Youngian take on Johnny Cash’s American Recordings, or Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions and you’re closer to the truth.
You can hear Neil Young addressing Crazy Horse at the end of Americana's first track. "It's really funky. It gets into a good groove," he says of their version of Oh Susannah. This leads one to wonder how he defines "funky", since his version resembles nothing so much as a pub band playing Shocking Blue's Venus with different lyrics.
Neil Young always sounds best with Crazy Horse. 1969’s ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’ – amazing. 1970’s ‘After The Gold Rush’ – superb. 1975’s ‘Zuma’ – yeah man! So it follows that ‘Americana’, the first time Neil and the Horse have recorded an album for nine years, sounds instantly classic, as ‘Oh Susannah’ begins and ends on a guitar solo that only the 66-year-old Young could play.
Making an album of grungy covers of campfire songs like Jesus's Chariot (better known as Coming Round The Mountain) is a quirky idea, but not the worst one Young ever had. Unfortunately, the results come across like an uninspired SNL sketch rather than the examination of early American folk Young intended. The problem is mostly in the execution. Going for a live-off-the-floor vibe is fine, but this sounds like the band didn't bother rehearsing or working up decent arrangements.
Getting the band back together for the first time since 2003, Neil Young corrals Crazy Horse through Americana, a collection comprised primarily of old folk songs -- not the weird, forgotten ones scholars have excavated, but the familiar ones taught in elementary schools from sea to shining sea. Ornery git that he is, Neil doesn't follow his own concept to the letter, finding a way to shoehorn the Silhouettes' rocking doo wop classic "Get a Job" and the British commonwealth anthem "God Save the Queen" into Americana, their presence suggesting a possible political component to the record. Or perhaps those were the songs Young felt like playing that day.
Born and raised in Canada, Neil Young has a transplant's interest in the history and traditions of his adopted America, a bit of the same bug that transformed four-fifths of the Band into ardent Southerners. It's a passion that's informed Young's music from the beginning, both in his updating of folk textures and his willingness to chastise the U.S. for past and present sins.
When veteran rockers get restless, one of two things can happen: “Lulu” or “Americana.” The former is Lou Reed’s abysmal collaboration with Metallica; the latter is Neil Young’s charming reunion with Crazy Horse. For the first time in eight years, Young rallied bassist Billy Talbot, guitarist Poncho Sampedro, and drummer Ralph Molina — to explore American folk tales. Yet this tangle of fuzzed-out guitars, stuttering bass lines, and clattering drums is no folk record, but rock ’n’ roll at its most primitive, plunging old songs deeper into a primordial sonic stew.
Neil Young hasn't made an album with Crazy Horse (Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina and Frank Sampedro) in nine years. Did you miss them? Like taking an old jacket from the closet to replace new vintage duds, it's a bit redundant. The degree of sonic distance between latest collaboration Americana and, say, Living With War (2006), the best of eight solo albums Young has released this past decade, is pretty thin.
Young’s reuniting with Crazy Horse has yielded disappointingly damp results. Paul Whitelaw 2012 Great though he undoubtedly is, Neil Young has released some terrible albums in his time. And although Americana, his 34th studio recording, doesn't quite plumb the depths of, say, Everybody's Rockin' or Re-ac-tor, it's almost certainly destined to be regarded as a footnote in his canon.