One Track Mind: Neil Young, “Mother Earth” (2014)

It comes as no surprise, of course, that Neil Young’s newest song boasts an environmental theme, considering his focus on Alberta’s tar sands during his recent “Honour The Treaties” tour.

Well, truth be told, this is not really new, so much as reworked. But still, Young’s freshly updated version of “Mother Earth” from 1990′s Ragged Glory has a completely different feel — even before Young, in a rewrite of the song’s final segment, delves into the issue of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation land rights during a January 19, 2014 appearance at Jack Singer Hall in Calgary. (The outdoor shots are from Petropolis, a documentary by Peter Mettler on the impacted tar sands area.)

There’s tender, undiluted emotion here, despite its larger focus on a topic which still sparks such furious debate — more than four decades after a modern conversation surrounding man’s impact on this planet began with the founding of the EPA. The passion seems, at least at first, less toward that debate, and more toward conveying a deep-seated gratitude for the natural world around us. That’s what drew us in, all over again.

Of course, Young introduces “Mother Earth” as a “hymn for Canada,” so it’s clear that he won’t be leaving aside the particulars of this continuing discussion on Alberta. As the track continues, he inevitably turns his attentions to the yawning divide that’s opened between commerce and conservation. (Somewhere Pete Seeger, who died on the very day this new version appeared on YouTube, is probably beaming.)

And yet, there remains an enveloping beauty about “Mother Earth,” in its unadorned instrumentation, in his heartfelt approach with the lyric, in the song’s often bucolic imagery. Whatever side you’re own, or if you don’t have a side in this fight at all, Young’s quietly conveyed ruminations — coupled only with a splash of harp, a heart-filling organ, and a sense of sweeping wonder — still hold this startling power.

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Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.