Americana by Neil Young and Crazy Horse (2012. Reprise Records)

Mmm. Now, here’s the thing: I love Neil Young. As a guitarist. As a songwriter. And even, occasionally (“Helpless” and “Old Man”) as a vocalist. In some ways, Young is the Canadian Bob Dylan: A quirky, talented, hard working artist whose words and music have impacted young men and women for decades. Some critics just plain don’t like Young’s backing band, Crazy Horse. There have been countless reviews of Crazy Horse-driven Young albums over the years wherein commentators pointed to the weakness of the musicianship of the band members. Bullshit. I love Crazy Horse. It is, collectively, what it is: A hard driving, simple force of nature, at the center of which is a now very old but still, very rocking, guitarist.

That having been said, this strange collection of old American folk tunes (“Clementine”), 50s rock (“Get a Job”) and simply weird (“God Save the Queen”) isn’t one of Young’s best efforts, at least in terms of the material presented. I get the sense that, after Springsteen put together We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions to some measure of success, Neil tried to duplicate that effort without the sweat and toil it took Springsteen to pull it off. By that I mean, nowhere on this album does Young or his band try to recreate the heart and soul of the old music that Pete Seeger has worked a lifetime to preserve, something The Boss tried very hard (and was at least partially successful at) to do with We Shall Overcome. There’s a glimmer of what Young could have achieved, had he played it straight, put down his ax and picked up a twelve string, on “This Land is Your Land”. But that’s a fleeting glimpse of what this album might have been.

It’s been nine years since the last Young-Crazy Horse album. And it shows: Not in the playing (which is straight on, hard rocking grunge on most cuts) but in the material. I won’t say this collection was a waste of my son’s hard earned money (it was a Father’s Day gift) because even average Neil Young and Crazy Horse is better than about 95% of the crap on the radio today. But this isn’t one of my favorite guitarist’s better efforts.

3 and 1/2 stars out of 5.

 

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