There is something special about a Neil Young and Crazy Horse album. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but they don’t really sound like anything either has released. As soon as you hear a few seconds you know it’s a Crazy Horse album. Young’s guitar has a specific crunch to it. The drums instinctively feel different, and the bass just hangs everything together. There is a reason why they’ve been recording together since 1969. Their new album ‘Barn’ is no different.
The album features the same line-up as 2019s ‘Colorado’; Billy Talbot on bass and vocals, Ralph Molina on drums and vocals, and Nils Lofgren on guitar, piano, accordion, and vocals. Despite their similarities the albums are contrasted. ‘Colorado’ was more of a rockier affair, where as ‘Barn’ is more reflective in places. Don’t worry Young and co. still let rip, but it is underpinned with melancholy. The shift in tone might be down to how it was recorded – in a 19th century barn in the Rockies, in the summer under a full moon. Looking at the album cover gives you a sense of space. The majority of the cover is a beautiful sky with wispy salmon-coloured clouds. In the bottom left-hand corner is the barn. It emerges out of the picture like the moonlight emerges from the moon in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The doors of the barn are open, but there are sheets, or hides of animals, covering enshrouding the entrance so we can’t see inside. In front of this are four men. Neil Young and Crazy Horse. They aren’t the focal point of the cover. In fact, you don’t notice them on a first look. This idea of space permeates the album.
Opening track ‘Song Of The Seasons’ opens with a jaunty harmonica, acoustic guitar and accordion. There is a slight Zydeco vibe, but slower. Young is in a lamenting mood. Is this because of the location? The last few years, or that questioning his mortality? We never quite know. The line “Song of the seasons coming through me now. Like the wind in your hair. We're so together in the way that we feel. That we could wind up anywhere” feels poignant. Like the last conversations with friends, you don’t see anymore. Later in the song Young is driving through a city and looking about through the window. He sees the lights, the people, and our collective humanity. It could be one of the most honest things Young has written for a while. It’s a fitting way to start the album. ‘Song Of The Seasons’ is full of space, as the cover hints at, but it’s also shrouded in mystery. Young gives enough away, but also hides its true meaning.
After the gently meanders of ‘Song of the Season’ there is an explosion of sound and, what sounds like Old Blackie, erupts from the speakers. This feels like classic Young and Crazy Horse. Here Young is looking back at his childhood. Playing with toys, fishing being a mill, his parents separating and getting his first guitar. Young isn’t normally this autobiographical, but his honesty works well with the pulverising guitars. Could it be that he’s thinking about his mortality, or the surroundings reminded him of his childhood? Who knows, but it lets us know that this isn’t going to be the serene affair that the opening track hinted at. ‘Change Ain’t Never Gonna’ feels like a ‘Greendale’ outtake. It’s Crazy Horse barroom rock at its best. There is a playfulness to the song. The words are almost immaterial. What’s important is that the band is playing and having a good time doing it, which gives us a good time listening to it.
As ‘Barn’ progresses Young discusses his dual nationality on ‘Canerican’ “I am American / American is what I am / I cast my vote and now I got my man / Out on the ranges, I see the changes coming to this country / I am American / American is what I am..” ‘They Might Be Lost’ is either about waiting for his road crew to collect his equipment for tour/recording or about waiting for someone to move him from a house after his parents’ separation. Again, Young is digging into his past, but he isn’t being specific. This is the power of the song, and the album. You never quite know what Young is really talking about, but the internal guesswork is what keeps you coming back.
‘Human Race’ feels like an unofficial sequel to the epic ‘Ordinary People’ from 2007s ‘Chrome Dream II’. It’s the most aggressive track on the album and features one of Young’s most disjoined solos every committed to record. There is an urgency to his playing. Its as if his life depends on it. And in a way it does. This is the beauty of Neil Young releases. You don’t just listen to them you feel them. – If ‘Barn’ wasn’t enough a film of the recording process was directed by Young’s wife Daryl Hannah. Rumour has it that this is the most candid film about Young and Crazy Horse since Jim Jarmusch’s 1997 documentary ‘Year of the Horse’. This is the icing on the cake. It’s an added bonus for us to pour over and try and dissect.
Overall ‘Barn’ is a solid Young and Crazy Horse album. The songs a layered with all that good stuff you want a Crazy Horse album to have. Crunching guitars. Laconic acoustic numbers. Mournful harmonicas. Catchy choruses and a sense of urgency. While this isn’t a classic Neil Young and Crazy Horse album it’s pretty close. It might be the most fun they’ve had since 2003’s ‘Greendale’. What it does show is that Neil Young hasn’t run out of ideas since he first emerged in the 1960s. Hopefully there is still enough left in the tank for some more albums before he hangs up his guitar for good.
Words: Nick Roseblade
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