I foresee this as yet another hit-and-miss record among Neil Young fans. The reactions will be somewhat polarizing. Those expecting something brand new from the Horse will be disappointed.....Americana is essentially a covers album. Those who would like to hear a Ragged Glory rehash of sorts may eat this one up. One thing's for certain though; no rock band can wreck sonic havoc on your ears like Crazy Horse can....and Frank "Poncho" Sampedro's guitar playing hasn't really improved. Let us all put away our prior judgements about the album and crank up the CD or vinyl or FLAC first. I've already heard the four songs released officially online, but like most of his records, listening to the album proper from start to finish is rewarding and makes more sense.
The more I listen to Americana, the more I understand why Neil chose to make this kind of album. He had a giant American songbook to choose from, and these eleven songs are selected and re-interpreted for a specific purpose, to inform and remind people. It's not just putting a heavy, grungy sound to traditional tunes. The dirty electric guitar, the rollicking bass, the frantic drumming all give added urgency to the music and words. They're meant to grab us by the collar and pull us in. The children choir singing retains that old-timey feeling of the songs, working their magic on Gallows Pole and the closing God Save The Queen, which is the least 'American' song here.
Neil revisits the original, lesser-known lyrics of the songs. The ambiguity of some of the words can be applied to modern American life, 'scarily' enough, they say a lot about the state of the country today. Different chord progressions are used; most of them give the songs a darker, more apocalyptic tone, like Jesus Chariot for example. Now that I've already seen the video (with the Birth Of Nation footage), I get a little freaked out. The new versions of Clementine and Gallows Pole sound more somber and melancholic. (side note: for the definitive rock & roll take on Gallows Pole, check out Led Zeppelin)
The Crazy Horse guys aren't known for their background harmonies, but their out-of-tune, imperfect singing does complement their imperfect playing of the instruments. Meanwhile, Neil's voice hasn't changed all that much in a long time. I can enjoy most of the tunes except Get A Job, in which its weird doo-wop style just seems out of place here (interesting to note that the Horse started out as a doo-wop outfit in the '60s). The brief banter between the band at the end of each song suggests that they might have nailed the take very early on. Woody Guthrie's This Land Is Your Land, one of the 'newer' compositions here, receives a faithful recreation, and Neil does good by including all the verses. Stephen Stills contributes some background vocals too.
Americana is more than another middle-of-the-road Neil Young album for me; it's a commendable effort. The moment you hear the drums and guitars casually tumble in at the start of Oh Susannah, it's like the Horse never left. There are the brilliant moments -- I especially dig Tom Dula, High Flyin' Bird, Clementine, Gallows Pole, God Save The Queen. But at the end of the day, I don't really share that 'special connection' with the songs, it doesn't stir me up that much emotionally. I slightly prefer Greendale over this. The last great Crazy Horse album was 1994's Sleeps With Angels, still sadly underrated today. Now that this is out of the way, maybe Neil can finally release Toast in the near future. But if there's one thing we've all come to expect from Neil Young, is that always expect the unexpected.
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