Neil Young and Crazy Horse
Even though Americana features old folk songs Neil Young himself did not write, the way he plays them with Crazy Horse make them rock as hard as any of his best.
Out of the eleven songs on the album, five or six in particular stand out. I consider that an amazing ratio, because some great bands have only one or two songs worth repeatedly hearing on a given album. If you gravitate toward “Powderfinger,” “Cortez the Killer,” and “Love and Only Love” for the power-groove that Neil and only Neil gets, and only with Crazy Horse, you’ll understand exactly what I mean.
Frank Sampedro’s rhythm guitar, Billy Talbot’s bass, and Ralph Molina’s drums form the signature sound with Neil’s lead guitar and earnest nasal vocals that unearth “Oh Susannah” and “Clementine” and send them hiking up their skirts and dancing away on fresh legs.
It would be a dandy of an album to have on vinyl. Nice cover with what looks like Neil and the boys’ faces superimposed over four Native Americans posing in a car about a hundred-plus years ago. I couldn’t find online whether one of those guys is Crazy Horse, but I did find that the cover design comes from Tom Wilkes, who did covers for the Rolling Stones and George Harrison, among others. Died three years ago, turns out.
The last time Neil put out an album with Crazy Horse was 2003's Greendale. That’s a noble project with fantastic songs, but the songs don’t have that Crazy Horse sound. (I think Frank might have skipped out on that one, actually, which would account for things entirely.)
The best Neil and Crazy Horse album prior to this one, Ragged Glory came out at a time when, looking back on it, Neil was in his prime, and yet even that album was considered some kind of comeback because he’d played on stage with Pearl Jam and showed everybody how it’s done.
Here he’s done it again. Except no Pearl Jam, of course, for many years now. “Travel On,” “High Flyin’ Bird,” “Jesus’ Chariot"--listening to Neil make a song his own is like watching Bruce Lee put together parts of different martial arts and making something more.
Increasingly, rock stars are becoming like Jedi knights. Which is to say that more and more we’re getting less and less. The kid that I talked to at the record store had actually never even heard of Neil Young. Probably ditto with Jedi knights. But that’s okay with me. I’ve never once watched an episode of “American Idol.”