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Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Americana - REPRISE
FILTER Grade: 75%

By Jon Falcone on June 4, 2012

 

Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Here’s the premise of Americana, buried in its name: Neil Young and Crazy Horse collate and reinterpret a series of folk songs, some supposedly from as far back as 1800, giving us a series of snapshots through the history of music as protest. However interesting the concept is, as well as Young’s own significant role within protest music, Young and Crazy Horse writhing their distorted guitars through 11 tracks of shuffled hymnals is listenable, but less beguiling than Young’s own compositions or the history he presents.

Being the first Young–Crazy Horse collaboration for nine years, the initial, desert-dry, lazy guitar riff of “Oh Susannah” is as thrilling as hearing the “Cortez the Killer” roll out. A backbeat persistent and tight quickly paints the severity of the lyrics to come. As folk music has variously stemmed from/been labeled as “murder ballads” or “protest songs,” according to the lyrical content, “Oh Susannah” at once mixes hard rockin’ with gospel backing vocals. As Young implores Susannah not to cry, his performance is impassioned and punchy.

As other songs are unraveled, some strike with power. “Clementine” sounds like a garage recording but awash with pristine harmonies as the age-old song, often best known as a child’s nursery recital, rocks out wistfully. To know this is a reinterpretation of a folk reinterpretation gives it a storied legacy that piques interests as well. (The popular ditty, commonly accredited to Percy Montrose [1864], is thought to be based on a poem by H.S. Thompson [1863].)

Armed with this knowledge, fleeting moments provide a genuine sense of musical heritage seeping from the compositions. Young seems to have caught a spirit no longer present and Crazy Horse helps him capture them on tape. Certainly, Americana is its own welcome portal for reminiscence. As an album, though, it gives us songs more memorable for their grizzly narrations or the occasional doo-wop harmony than the steady performances of mostly standard-format jams. 

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