On Second Thought: Neil Young and Crazy Horse – Americana (2012)

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The first thing to know about Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s new album — their first together since 2003’s Greendale — is that everything is not as it seems here. At least not on the surface. The second thing you need to know before going in blind comes in the form of some simple advice: throw out any preconceived notions you might have heard about this album. That starts with the song titles, by the way. Because they are all wrong.

Despite its advance publicity, Americana is much more than just another rock star vanity project. What is true about Americana, is that Neil Young’s reunion with what is arguably his greatest band — or at least the one most closely identified with the “grungier” aspects of his best known excursions into ear-splitting, paint peeling hard rock noise — is also a somewhat curious occasion which finds them doing an entire album of what could best be described as traditional folk tunes. Once again though, this is where those surface appearances can become deceiving.

What is likely to stop some of Neil Young’s less-adventurous fans in their tracks about Americana though, is in fact the track listing. If you think you’ve heard song titles like “Oh Susannah,” “Clementine” and “This Land Is Your Land” before, it’s because you have. Other song titles, like “Tom Dula” and “Jesus Chariot,” are altered just slightly enough, but become recognizable soon enough as updated versions of their more popularly known names “Tom Dooley” and “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round The Mountain (When She Comes).”

But before you go rolling your eyes, and thinking to yourself that Neil Young might have suffered another brain aneurysm — or at least a relapse of the infamous, genre-hopping “lost eighties” years — we suggest hitting the play button before you judge. From the moment of the first cranked up guitars of “Oh, Susannah” that open this album, the sound here is pure Crazy Horse captured in their fullest, most ragged glory. The intro to “Susannah” is in fact a fuzzed-out mess that takes nearly a minute to even find it’s groove — in other words, the hallmark of a great Neil Young & Crazy Horse record if ever there was one.

From there, it only gets better. The second track “Clementine” finds the Horse locked into a churning drone of thick, chunky guitar riffage and the sort of Indian warpath drumming that recalls something like Are You Passionate?’s sadly slept-on CH track “Goin’ Home.” “Jesus Chariot” largely repeats this same pattern of heavy guitars and war-toms, but speeds things up just enough to make those horse hooves sound more like an approaching freight train.

On the album’s longest track, the eight minute “Tom Dula” (a.k.a. Tom Dooley), Neil Young & Crazy Horse even venture into the droning territory of ReAcTor. While it’s not quite as steeped in repetition as something like “T-Bone” from that album, the repeated chorus of “Tom Dula, Tom Dula” repeated over and over against a chorus of howling guitars cranked all the way up, does have this weirdly wonderful way of planting itself in your head and refusing to let go.

It is at about this time — around the mid-point of this album — that you realize Americana has all of the earmarks of a Crazy Horse classic. This is loosey-goosey and sloppy, yet dirty and greezy funky all at once. Americana is the sort of record that may leave you scratching your head after an initial listen, but which you’ll also find hopelessly stuck in your brain for hours or even days later.

In that respect alone, Americana is an album which has much more in common with the garage grunge of Ragged Glory, than it does with the hootenanny hollers of Bruce Springsteen’s We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (an album which some lazier music critics will most likely attempt to compare it to). The fact is, the closest that Americana probably ever comes to gratuitous sounding genre exercise, is on “Get A Job,” where the doo-wop vocals stray a little too closely to the rockabilly territory of Neil Young’s infamous eighties Everybody’s Rockin’ album with the Shocking Pinks.

For those of you who simply can’t see their way past the song titles, rumor has it that Neil Young & Crazy Horse have a second album of new, original material already in the can and waiting to go. Otherwise, crank this one up loud. It’s time to feel the spook again.

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Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd

The Something Else! Reviews webzine, an accredited Google News affiliate, is syndicated through Bing News, Topix and AllAboutJazz.com. The site has been featured in The New York Times, NPR.com's A Blog Supreme, the NoDepression.com Americana site, Popdose.com and JazzTimes, while our writers have also been published by USA Today, Jazz.com, Rock.com, Blues Revue Magazine and UltimateClassicRock.com, among others. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Glen Boyd
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