Neil Young continues with the American folk tradition with “Americana”

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Photo courtesy of Neil Young.

William Malsam

Austin City Limits-headliner Neil Young dropped his newest album, and this time he brought some old friends with him. “Americana” features longtime supporting cast Crazy Horse, who played on such notable albums as “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere,” “After the Gold Rush” and “Zuma.” This is the first time Neil Young has collaborated with Crazy Horse since they released “Greendale” in 2003, and the group has not missed a step. Neil Young may be 66-years-old, but his voice and his guitar playing have not aged a bit.

Americana is a gritty folk-rock album comprised of traditional American folk songs. Many of the songs even frequented our childhood campfires, such as “Clementine” and “This Land is Your Land,” but these aren’t your basic kindergarten renditions. Young reinterprets classic American tunes with fresh arrangements. Heavy drums, abrasive distortion and a heart wrenching chorus capture the sadness of a grieving lover in “Clementine,” and the grinding guitar in “Jesus’ Chariot” makes the gospel hymn sound more like a cry of desperate anger than a prayer of hope; his modern interpretations revive these old lyrics and place them in a contemporary light.

Young’s genuine delivery breaths life into these century old songs making them both entertaining and relatable. “High Flyin’ Bird” sings of a man who longs for the freedom of birds in the sky, and “Wayfarin’ Stranger” is an engaging acoustic number that tells of a lonely spirit wandering earth in hopes of finding his way home. Universal themes and expertly designed rock arrangements blend well on “Americana” and keep the listener involved.

The music is spot-on as well. Songs like “Oh Susannha” and “Tom Dula” exhibit, with great success, the groups ability to jam together, and funky riffs and catchy melodies carry these tunes. These are good rock songs, but they don’t really show the listener anything new from Young. The album drags a bit during “Travel On” and an almost six minute version of “This Land is Your Land” simply because they get a bit too repetitive. The songs start strong, but after five minutes, the sparse lyrics and simple chords begin to grow tiresome.

The record ends satirically with a version of “God Save The Queen” which seamlessly interweaves “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” at the end, wryly commenting on our European origins. As made evident by the album cover, Neil Young will always believe the American Indians to be the true Americans.

Overall, “Americana” is a solid album with 11 tracks. There is nothing break-through on the release, but Neil Young and Crazy Horse rock as hard as they did in 1975, and the lyrics are as pertinent and interesting today as they were in the mid-20th century.