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Spins: Neil Young & Crazy Horse • Barn

| December 10, 2021 | 0 Comments

Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Barn

(Reprise)

Neil Young collects his trusty, veteran Crazy Horse gang for a freewheeling album that sounds like a joyful weekend getaway among friends in the garage – or in Young’s case, the restored 19th-century barn.

The ambiance is amiable, loose, and natural. The recording draws together an intuitive band with simple arrangements that sound like the accomplished players are capturing the songs as they learn. “Song of the Seasons” begins with restrained but warm folk, colored by Young’s autumnal acoustic guitar and plaintive harmonica and Nils Lofgren’s sea shanty style accordion. The tune celebrates togetherness through changing circumstances, whether it be a wide-open country scene from Young’s barn in Colorado as migrating geese fly overhead or cityscape with masked commuters passing by.

The upbeat “Heading West” recalls the optimism of youth and recalls “good old days” when Young’s mother gave him his first guitar as a boy. Drummer Ralph Molina drives the song with a cracking snare and thrashing hi-hat, while Young’s rhythm guitar sputters and buzzes opposite Lofgren’s joyful piano. “Change Ain’t Never Gonna” is a protest song disguised as a loping Chicago blues number, with Young’s sparkling piano and wheezy harmonica riff. “Canerican” takes a heavy tempo with buzzing guitars. Young states his piece as a Canadian-born American citizen while calling for brotherhood among all colors contributing to the melting pot. The song finds Crazy Horse joining in soulful vocal harmony and fades with a trademarked, snarling garage rock solo from Young. “Shape of You” is a confessional of love and devotion. The song’s chugging blues is the type favored lately by Bob Dylan, propelled by the steady pulse of Billy Talbot’s bass. Nils Lofgren riffs and noodles on guitar like Keith Richards on the Rolling Stones’ Blue and Lonesome album.

“They Might Be Lost” is a melancholy acoustic ballad and the Barn track that perhaps most closely resembles the pensive young man and band who delivered After the Gold Rush more than 50 years ago. The song echoes the tradition of “Wichita Lineman,” with a simple working man thinking deep thoughts on the job. “Human Race” is a hard-charging ecological anthem with amps pushing toward meltdown, while young sings about the sins of “today’s people” and what those acts portend for the “children of the fires and floods.” Young’s tremulous tenor vocal on the country-pop song “Tumblin’ Thru the Years” expresses gratitude for a steady partner to carry the load through life together. The amplifiers sizzle during the rise and fall of the expansive and understated “Welcome Back,” a song mirroring the cinematic scope of “Cortez, the Killer.” Young’s brash guitar is balanced by Lofgren’s drifting clouds of brushed chords and high lonesome textures. Young’s lyric points the way toward mysteries to ponder both above and within, reaching beyond mundane routines.

The light and twinkling “Don’t Forget Love” is a straightforward expression of its title with a repeating singalong hook and Young’s gentle piano playing as the song’s foundation. It would be easy to imagine Wayne Coyne singing these words as an ode to community and mutual support, with the Flaming Lips converting the song into a majestic symphony of psychedelic pop. Daryl Hannah’s accompanying film allows you into the barn to experience the music as it comes to life, performed on battered instruments by weathered old friends. The film captures the performances, the idyllic scenery, and charming in-between moments like a birthday celebration for Molina and Young leading the band in vocal warmups while lamenting the lack of cold beer. One scene shows Lofgren describing Crazy Horse’s usual process, thinking, “Wow, I’m just starting to get the hang of it,” followed by “Yeah, we’re done. Next!”

The fact that Barn is far from a polished product is among its greatest strengths. Neil Young & Crazy Horse remind us that rock and roll can be a window into the times. It’s immediate, fresh, and of the moment. Barn spills over with love, brotherhood, anger, joy, and nostalgia for times past. The album also expresses hope that the future can be a good one if we are willing to do the work to make it so and reminds us why that’s worth doing.

– Jeff Elbel

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