Neil Young / Neil Young & Crazy Horse

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Americana Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Getting the band back together for the first time since 2003, Neil Young corrals Crazy Horse through Americana, a collection comprised primarily of old folk songs -- not the weird, forgotten ones scholars have excavated, but the familiar ones taught in elementary schools from sea to shining sea. Ornery git that he is, Neil doesn't follow his own concept to the letter, finding a way to shoehorn the Silhouettes' rocking doo wop classic "Get a Job" and the British commonwealth anthem "God Save the Queen" into Americana, their presence suggesting a possible political component to the record. Or perhaps those were the songs Young felt like playing that day. With an album as ungainly as Americana, either concept is possible and any clarity is crushed by the Horse's heavy-footed stomp. Here, once again graced by the presence of guitarist Frank Sampedro, who sat out 2003's rock opera Greendale, Crazy Horse stumble and lurch as they pound the same three chords they've been bashing out for 40 years, time not adding acumen but rather eroding whatever finesse they ever possessed. Always garage rock primitives, Crazy Horse sounds downright amateurish on Americana, as if they woke up one morning and couldn't remember how to play their instruments. Each cut plays like a first take, none worse than "Get a Job," where the band struggles mightily to achieve some semblance of swing and misses. Sometimes, this cacophony can be oddly compelling, particularly when a children's chorus -- the better to underscore these songs' origins, perhaps -- are brought into the mix, inevitably leading to everybody tripping over each other. It all winds up as an ungodly mess: Crazy Horse do, as Young asserted they would, make these songs their own, but by doing so, they've made them so nobody else would ever want them.

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