Review: A Neil Young Perspective From Past to Present

Neil Young/Barn and Carnegie Hall 1970/Reprise
3.5 out of Five Stars

Videos by American Songwriter

It’s a credit to Neil Young’s seemingly nonstop prolific prowess and ongoing ambition that he’s chalked up no less than four albums this past year alone. And while three of them may be of an archival nature, it’s clear that he’s still determined to see his music reaching the marketplace, whether new, vintage, or previously unreleased.

Inevitably then, it all becomes inextricably entangled, an inevitable merger of past and present. It’s all Neil all the time, and given the fact that he’s shed his penchant for unwieldy experimentation—there’s nothing in the way of Re-ac-tor or Trans to throw anyone off — the music is vintage Young, whether originating in past or present.

Of course Young has a fine treasure trove of older material to cull from, and he’s so seemingly obsessed with pulling music from the vaults, he’s not only continued to cull inventory for his ongoing “Archives” series but started a new line of retro recordings as well, which he’s designated as part of an “Official Bootleg Series.”  What distinguishes one from the other isn’t quite clear, but no matter. It’s the sourcing that counts and the easy, ambling 23-song set, Carnegie Hall 1970 offers a veritable greatest hits of early classics — “Down by the River,” “Cinnamon Girl,” “Old Man,” “Tell Me Why,” “Southern Man,” and the like, all performed solo in a natural state. In addition to having an opportunity to revisit a handful of Buffalo Springfield and CSNY classics (“Expecting to Fly,” “I Am a Child,” ”Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing,” “Flying on the Ground is Wrong,” “Helpless,” “Ohio, and the like”), there’s a hair of rarities, “Wonderin’” and“Bad Fog of Loneliness,” two of the more obscure offerings in Young’s extensive repertoire. 

Ultimately, Carnegie Hall 1970 provides a fine lead-in for the all-new Barn, a current studio effort—of sorts—with the ever-faithful Crazy Horse in tow. The latter effort is, in itself, another journey through the past (to borrow the title of one of Young’s first archival offerings), given that it reunites Young with his well-regarded colleagues—Nils Lofgren on guitar, Billy Talbot on bass, and Ralph Molina on drums—and reboots the classic sound that comes when the quartet operate in tandem. Recorded in a matter of days in a remote log barn dating back to the 19th century, its ten new songs keep to the classic Crazy Horse formula, ranging from weary ballads to ragged rockers. Despite the minimal embellishment, the musicians remain a well-oiled machine, as sturdy and in synch as ever. 

Sandwiched by the ballads ‘Songs of the Season,” a quiet country musing that would have found a fit on Harvest and Harvest Moon, and “Don’t Forget Love,” a gentle to romance and lingering relationships, the band blaze forward with their usual energy and enthusiasm. “Heading West” maintains a drive and delivery that’s both resolute and resilient. “Change Ain’t Never Gonna” takes matters in stride, while pointing a finger at America’s excess consumption.  “Human Race” is given a steady surge, effortlessly enhanced by Crazy Horse’s usual rollicking resolve.

Young also shares songs from a more pointed perspective, with “Canerican” referencing Young’s dual U.S./Canadian citizenship, and using it as an example of America’s once-reliable reputation as a melting pot that welcomed people from all origins and backgrounds.

How Barn will shape up in terms of Young’s catalog of classics remains to be seen of course. The fact that he’s willing to revisit his older material in both style and substance ensures that the continued reverence for his work will remain unabated. In that regard, he remains forever Young.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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