One of the fun things about being a Neil Young fan is that you never quite know what you’re going to get when a new album comes out. Will it be a masterpiece or an ill-advised bout of experimentation? Americana certainly sounds like the latter, hooking up again with Crazy Horse to provide their take on old-timey American folk songs. And the British national anthem…
Have you ever wondered what She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain would sound like if it was turned into a Crazy Horse style plodding guitar dirge? Well, hopefully so, because that’s the essence of Americana. But, perhaps surprisingly, it mostly works out alright. It’s still a bit of a step backwards from 2010’s brilliant Le Noise album, but it’s far from the disaster some early reviews have painted it as, especially for fans of that trademark guitar sound.
It’s Young’s first release with Crazy Horse since Greendale, 2003’s slightly overblown concept album, and while there’s certainly a theme here, the music is much more loose and unconstrained than that, which is what they do best, of course. As soon as opening track Oh Susannah kicks in, that familiar chug of Young and Poncho’s guitars and the rhythm of Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina eases some of the concerns, because it does sound good, something that you can even hear Young saying to them after the song finishes.
Clementine starts off a little bit dull, but soon gets going and works well, but the highlight of proceedings is Tom Dula, a catchy track that also allows the band to stretch their legs musically across its 8 minute runtime. For me, Crazy Horse are always at their best when they can cut loose a bit, and Travel On is another excellent example of this, but some of the other highlights are less predictable, while some more obvious choices go slightly awry.
Initially, taking on doo wop classic Get A Job sounds like a terrible idea, particularly as no-one involved is blessed with heavenly vocal cords, but there’s enough energy in there to ensure that it turns out alright in the end. On the flipside, Neil Young covering Woody Guthrie sounds like a safe bet, but This Land Is Your Land is actually quite dull, while the backing vocals make it sound a bit schmaltzy, which was surely hardly the point. Ending with God Save The Queen is a typically quirky decision, but its hard to make it sound anything more than a dirge.
So, Americana is far from a disaster, but it’s also not going to stand up as one of the best things Young has done. It is nice to hear him reunited with Crazy Horse, and they bring a lot of fun and energy to these old songs, but it’s hard to see that anything about it is particularly essential or groundbreaking. But he’s the kind of artist whose fans accept and embrace these curious diversions, and it’s hardly Trans or This Note’s For You in those stakes. He’s earned the right to make whatever kind of music he wants and it’s never dull following his career, so why not do a cover of God Save The Queen?