Americana (3.5*)


I guess, when you’re looking to head off into Retro territory there are two extreme paths you can choose.

You can, should you want to employ twenty-first century technology and match it up with an attitude or sensibility that comes out of the era you’re looking to recreate, end up with something like a perfectly recorded period piece. That would deliver a seventies punk recreation where you could hear the singers’ spittle hitting the microphone or someone singing the acoustic blues with perfectly recorded fingernails scraping along guitar strings.

Alternatively you can take yourself back to the technology that applied at the time and produce something that sounds like it came directly out of the era you’re looking at without stopping along the way.

Most exercises in retrospectivity fit somewhere in between those extremes, with perfectly recorded reproductions played through vintage amplifiers (or whatever), but when you’re looking at the latest effort from Neil Young & Crazy Horse it’s worth stating those extremes because there’s a fair bit of both here.

It’s around nine years since Greendale, the last time Young let the Horse (admittedly, in the studio sans guitarist Frank ‘Poncho’ Sampedro, though he played on the subsequent tour) loose on a fan base that, largely, yearns for the primitive garage band thrash the outfit delivers (basically because anything else is a fair way beyond their actual capabilities), and with the Horse in harness you’re more or less right back in the second approach outlined above, regardless of whether you’re using the latest techno wonders to do the actual recording.

Regardless of what you think about Neil’s recent recording history, there’s no denying the guy’s prolific. Possibly too prolific, in the sense that a little time spent on polishing the product might be better than first thought = best thought, which is where he seems to have been sitting for a while. 

Regardless of how prolific you are, sitting down to write a book (Waging Heavy Peace, apparently semi-autobiographical, due out later this year) the effort’s possibly going to steer you away from writing songs and while you’re thinking about the past you’re going to remember things you were doing back when you were starting out in the early sixties.

Those reminiscences apparently included versions of Oh, Susannah by The Thorns and The Company's version of High Flying Bird as played in Ontario clubs and incorporated into the repertoire of Young’s band, The Squires, joining She’ll Be Comin ’Round The Mountain, Tom Dooley and Clementine in their regular set list.

That’s one part of the equation. 

On top of that, it’s hard to avoid suspecting the origins of this particular exercise probably trace back to the preparations for the Young & Crazy Horse appearance at the MusicCares tribute to Paul McCartney in Los Angeles back in February, where their cover of I Saw Her Standing There was apparently one of the highlights of the show. If you’re going to go back to 1963, why not go all the way back?

Of course, when you’re talking Neil Young things aren’t that simple.


© Ian Hughes 2012