Neil Young & Crazy Horse's new album, Americana and the subsequent tour in support of the album mark the end of an eight-year hiatus, the longest since the group's formation in 1969.
Neil Young, doing covers of folk songs? Not a promising beginning for the return of Crazy Horse. It calls to mind the horrific schlock of Rod Stewart's Great American Songbook Series. These fears are quickly assuaged by the first notes of "Oh Susannah," an album opener that announces to the world that Neil Young & Crazy Horse are back, ragged glory fully intact.
"Clementine" is a track that could have easily been an outtake from Freedom or Ragged Glory. "Tom Dula" is Young's version of the enduring murder ballad. The chanting of the song's title by Crazy Horse bassist, Billy Talbot, recalls "Piece of Crap" from Sleeps With Angels. "Gallows Pole" is a lively take on the folk standard.
"Get A Job" is probably the track that makes listeners the most apprehensive as the last time Young dabbled in 50s music, the result was Everybody's Rockin', an album whose potential was squashed by the horrific production and fake reverb. Fear not, this cover of the Silhouettes' hit single is thoroughly enjoyable. Billy Talbot nails the crucial bass vocals that give doo-wop its trademark sound.
"Travel On" sees the return of the guitar tone Young employed on Rust Never Sleeps and Ragged Glory that made the albums such watershed moments in Young's body of work. "High Flying Bird" recalls the slow burning guitar epics such as "Danger Bird" and "Cortez The Killer." "Jesus' Chariot" recalls the more aggressive moments on Sleeps With Angels.
"This Land Is Your Land" is a country rock shuffle bringing to mind "White Line" and last year's live album, A Treasure. Many versions of the Woody Guthrie song exist and in the emphasis on economic disparity in Young's version, one can draw parallels to the current political and economic climate. "Wayfarin' Stranger" is the only acoustic track on the album and its sparse arrangement make it a welcome addition to Young's collection of haunted acoustic numbers.
"God Save The Queen" is a stirring album closer, once again, Young's guitar sound calls to mind Rust Never Sleeps and Ragged Glory. The segue from "God Save The Queen" into "My Country 'Tis Of Thee" is a clever acknowledgement of the songs using the same melody as well as the Revolutionary War
As an album, Americana ranks among Young's best outings with Crazy Horse. While not of the same quality as masterworks such as Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Zuma, or Rust Never Sleeps, it's still the perfect soundtrack for when you have roads to drive and fuel to burn. Consider slipping this into your Fourth of July rotation,between Sousa marches and Ives symphonies.