Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Album Review: Neil Young- Peace Trail

Neil Young
Peace Trail
*** out of *****
Uncle Neil will always keep you guessing, having spent most of 2015 and 16 playing with the less than engaging Promise of The Real, he now delivers a solo based, off the cuff "primarily acoustic album" recorded over 4 days this summer at Rick Rubin's studios. Peace Trail is a bizarre mix of what makes Neil so fascinating and frustrating, a true muse who never stops.

The title track is world weary, an engaging mix of electric guitars, folksie strums, percussion that sounds mixed right in front of your face. The musical MVP throughout the disk though are NY's distorted harmonicas that dive bomb in with metallic screeches, livening up what otherwise would be dull adventures. "Can't Stop Workin'" is not a metaphor, it is directly addressing exactly what he does, continuly moving down that road. Here bassist Paul Bushnell and drummer Jim Keltner join him down the path, his main lyric:
"I can't stop workin' cause I like to work when nothin' else is going on/ It's bad for the body but it's good for the soul/might even keep you breathin' when you lose control"
is not just a refrain, it is his ethos.

There is a tossed off feeling to lyrics and Young's mood but that is balanced nicely by Keltner's drums which take up a jazz feeling as if the trio only ran through these songs in one or two takes (which probably was the case) and Keltner was just trying things out as he went only to have them become final takes. Bushnell is more in the pocket and feels coolly aloof as Young devolves into odd political rambles ("Indian Givers" and "My Pledge").

That political unrest is at the root of all of these tracks, but like most Neil numbers the vagueness in't very subtle (or all that effective). "Show Me" builds slowly and a touch eerily but peters out, there is a jaunty "Texas Rangers" and the up and down roll of the xenophobic "Terrorist Suicide Hang Gliders". A mix of environmental anger and immigration water the roots of "John Oaks" and the closing "My New Robot" is a odd screed about the technical world with robotic verses, references and password checks.

Young can swing wildly and this album feels like the pendulum is back on the upswing somehow, it is not as haunting as On The Beach by any stretchbut for a 71 year old it still has a vein of off-kilter-ness that leaves you odd, reminiscent of that classic disk.

Not vital by any stretch and a touch derivative to Young's catalog, yet Peace Trail is also strangely hopeful in the context of Young's career. Sure, his next album could be a dud, but for someone who did not care at all about his last few releases, Peace Trail feels much more potent.
Neil Young...never know what you are gonna get! Support him, buy the album, peep some video below:

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