Better late than never? Pegi Young is the founder of the Bridge School and the wife of Neil Young. Apparently, she's decided to open up her life quest to other avenues and to become a singer/songwriter (though she's appeared on backing vocals on a number of Neil numbers), as evidenced by her self-titled Warner Brothers debut. Produced by Elliot Mazer, it does feature significant contributions from Neil, as well as pedal steel and dobro master Ben Keith, legendary songwriter Spooner Oldham on piano and keyboards, and others. Mary Stuart makes a guest appearance with his mandolin on "When the Wild Life Betrays Me." Sonically, Neil Young fans will immediately embrace Pegi Young. A warm, slow, blend of acoustic/electric guitars and other stringed instruments frame these songs perfectly; what's more, it sounds as if it were made in ithe '70s. It's loose, relaxed, and flows from beginning to end. The song structures are a bit like her husband's, but that's a good thing. Her voice is quiet, a bit reedy, and a bit flat, and it serves the material well. The songs truly hold up. They are wry observations of life as it passes, where longing, vulnerability, insecurity, openness and strength are on view. Young accompanies herself on acoustic guitar, and digs into her words with a kind of detached conviction. But it's on her covers of three songs by Will Jennings that she gets across a kind of emotional terrain where "deep speaks to deep." Check her read of "When the Wild Life Betrays Me," a waltz written by Jennings with Jimmy Buffett, and Michael Utley; it's a country waltz that doubles as a broken heart ballad. "Hold On" was written by Jennings and Joe Sample; whereas the original is a slick neo-soul tune about love's desperation, this one is brought to life like a love letter written in front of the fire alone on a cold winter night. It's the most beautiful tune on the whole set.
Neil's electric sitar mars "Love Like Water," in part because of the thinness of Young's vocal. The stone old-school country of "Key to Love" works far better. The music never challenges the vocal, and Young's lyrical economy gets right to the heart of the matter at hand. "Sometimes Like a River (Loving You)," written by Toni Brown, is perfectly suited for the breezy-aired voice of Young. She sings with conviction while her husband's harmony vocal in the refrain underscores the tune's emotional heft. "White Line in the Sun," written by Pegi Young, is one of those dreamy, tired, singer/songwriter tunes that made the Laurel Canyon scene so popular. Her imagery is evocative, and her lyric structure is utterly unhurried and carries its own notion of "I've seen it all, been there, done that" (not her words); it slips quietly into numbers by Jackson Browne at his least spiritual and the Eagles at their most ("California"). The set closes with a reading of the Oldham-Dan Penn composed "I'm Not Through Loving You Yet," another waltz that might have better been served by the voice of Maria Muldaur in this particular arrangement. Keith's pedal steel slips and shimmers over the entire mix in its fills, the Jordanaires' backing vocals overwhelm the rather fragile lead line. Ultimately, Pegi Young is a flawed first album -- though not deeply -- but there is plenty here to like. Some of its song choices simply meander, whereas others get into the pocket and build from there, despite their slim ragged textures. It's also a "time of day" recording. Putting this on too early or too late may send the listener into dreamland, but in the right moment, it's an intimate, hopeful and melancholy look at life and love from a songwriter who has been there.