Neil Young & Crazy Horse "Americana"

Neil Young has played such a huge role on the American rock and roll scene for so long that it’s easy to forget that he’s actually a Canadian. Somehow he’s come to epitomize the essence of the prairies and plains of the United States, the dry hills of California, even the deep soul of the south. He’s created a career distinguished by his singular guitar work, his oddly effecting falsetto vocal style, and lyrics that are deeply personal. His music has flirted with folk elements, particularly his work with Crosby, Still, and Nash.

Americana reunites Young with his band Crazy Horse after a nine year hiatus. Together they resurrect eleven songs that have become part of the American canon including songs that originated outside of the country. Resurrect only tells part of the story. Young and Crazy Horse re-interpret the songs by dissecting their origins. Any song that survives decades, let alone a century, must have an elemental emotion connection or moral that connects people from generation to generation. That is what Young is after in his very modern takes on these songs.

Young opens the album with Stephen Foster’s iconic “Oh Susannah” a rambling, guitar driven version that might awaken Foster from his eternal sleep in Allegheny Cemetery. The same goes for “Clementine” a song that dates back to the 1880s. It opens with Young’s guitar grinding along with pounding drums. “Tom Dula” a ballad from the 19th century, has, like many other ballads in the public domain, received numerous revisions. Young chooses the arrangement from “The Squires.” “The Gallows” is a centuries old tune that might have originated in Finland. Young infuses it with a pep and sprightliness one might not expect of a hanging song.

Some tracks on Americana are recent songs in comparison to others. “Get a Job” the Silhouette’s classic doo-wop hit, offers a quirky respite from the heavy stuff. “High Flyin’ Bird” featured a young lead singer named Stephen Stills when it was released in 1964 by The Company. It’s Young on the lead this time. His interpretation of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” pulls from the song’s original manuscript. “Jesus Chariot (She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain)” a Negro spiritual is revamped. As Young puts it in the liner notes “The Americana arrangement continues the folk process with a new melody, a new title, and a combination of lyric sources.” Perhaps the strangest choice for the album is “God Save the Queen” which was co-opted by the young revolutionary states as “My Country Tis of Thee.” You can’t miss the original lyrics injected into the middle of the song.

Neil Yong and Crazy Horse play it loose in the studio with lots of incidental noise and no over dubbing or fancy footwork. What you hear on the recording is probably what you’ll get on stage when Neil and company roll into town on October 9th. Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix)