Neil Young, “When I Watch You Sleepin'” (2014): One Track Mind

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Storytone shouldn’t come, really, as any surprise. Neil Young has essentially made a career of left turns. There have been hits, and career-defining moments, even generation-defining ones. But also music for himself, music of great but sometimes inscrutable passion, music that sounded like it emerged from a different time, or even a different world.

Taken together, it’s music that roared and whined, surprised and confused, fell flat and touched the very deepest parts. Some of it has worked, some of it has not — but he’s always traveled, ever so explicitly, on his own path.

Young’s latest feint, the just-released orchestral sideroad Storytone, involves a new love, a huge cause, an even bigger band. And as weird as that all sounds, we are — you’re reminded — talking about Neil Young here. A guy who was once sued by his own label for not putting out Neil Young music. A guy who wrote a book about old cars even as he continues a torridly emotional environmental campaign. A guy who simply refuses to follow any map, even his own.

And yet, in its most dilated moments — like the largely acoustic song “When I Watch You Sleepin,'” a standout moment on Storytone — Young sounds, well, exactly like Young. Or, at least the Young of Harvest and its terrific sequel, Harvest Moon. His love songs, as before, thrum with a tender complexity. The specificity of the detail, the rawness of his own vulnerability, the sweep of his imagery, all of it combines to give us not just a window into Young’s heart but a fuller appreciation of our own.

There’s a different woman now, and no small amount of controversy surrounding it, but that takes nothing away from small, good things like “When I Watch You Sleepin.'” Storytone, elsewhere, might exceed its own grasp, might try to do too much, might fail to live up to a standard Neil Young never cared about anyway. But not this song. “When I Watch You Sleepin'” is a revelation of delicate wonder, as ardent as it is unforgettable.

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