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The Year of the Crazy Horse

Neil’s at it again. After a year spattered with more archival live releases there’s a new set of songs from Neil & Crazy Horse. Not sure what I expected from this collection in the lead up. A few years back, Colorado seemed to be a killer record, but the non-single tracks (to me) fizzled and became cheesy. Barn doesn’t seem to fall into those traps.

The latest record taps into a bunch of classic Neil themes: love, the good ol’ days, hitting the road, cars, fossil fuels, government control/corruption, etc.  To say Neil runs through the same drab themes seems to miss the point that Neil’s been doing the same thing for years and continually killing it. There was nostalgia in his music back in the 1960s, what difference does it make some 50+ years on?

Barn seems to have a foot in the past and a foot in the present. He’s back with Crazy Horse, Nils Lofgren is again back in the fold, there’s even a new shred mythology to go along with this one with the whole album recorded in an old barn (a throwback to the handful of tracks on Harvest taped in a barn?). But as far as I can figure out these are a totally new set of songs, no throwbacks, no reissues, no reworked versions of deep cuts.

There’s also no shortage of looking back on the record. Opener “Song Of The Seasons” sees Neil staring out at the falling leaves, channelling some sort of Mother Nature-esque muse in a way that wouldn’t seem out of place on After The Goldrush. This in-the-present nostalgia is backed up with a back-in-time musing of “When I was a little boy” opening up “Heading West” that retraces his steps in an addendum to “Don’t Be Denied.” While this feels like the usual late career/late in life sepia-toned fare, there’s a sense of being “in-the-moment” throughout the album.

That is to say, Neil Young & Crazy Horse were on during this session. As is their norm, there’s an off-the-cuff looseness to so many of these tracks. Recorded live (with what seems to be no overdubbing) these sit in that magic area between demos and tracks played to death in the studio. Despite all the old age stuff lyrically, there’s little sign of it musically. Neil’s honkey tonk piano and half-yodel on “Shape Of You” cuts through the first side of the album as a moment of ridiculous joy, while his solo on “Welcome Back” is among his best—all spindly overdriven notes that form a constellation through the middle of the track. This is a band that, while not at the peak of their powers, still revels in being in a room together.

While all the other classic rockers have gone off the edge of late, good to see Neil & Crazy Horse still keeping it real!