Neil Young

Are You Passionate?

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Neil Young had been playing with Booker T. & the MG's since the mid-'90s, touring heavily with the Stax house band, but the soul grooves on 2002's Are You Passionate?, the first album he cut with the group as a backing band, still come as a surprise. It could be because that even when he assembled the Bluenotes for the proto-neo-swing This Note's for You, he never tried to be as warm, seductive, and romantic as he does here. That's right, the title is no joke -- this is a romantic album, grounded with tight Southern soul rhythms and dressed in Young's signature fuzz-tone Les Paul. No matter the topic of the song, the essential sound is the same: a lazy soul groove, built on what Booker T. & the MG's did in the late '60s, vamping over Neil's three chords as he croons, usually in a falsetto but sometimes in a gruff lower register, while kicking out a variation of "I Can't Turn You Loose" (most notably heard on the opener, "You're My Girl," but rearing its head elsewhere). This is even true of "Let's Roll," a song inspired by the final words of Todd Beamer, one of the passengers on Flight 93 who helped overtake terrorists intent on flying a plane into Washington D.C.; though it's one of the first major post-9/11 songs, written by an artist notorious for his support of Reagan, it is neither reactionary nor all that moving -- mostly, it just sounds like another mid-tempo groover on an album filled with them. And that's the main problem with the record -- though it reads well on paper and is certainly more ambitious than any Neil Young record in years, the songs aren't distinctive or developed, and apart from the rather muscular, Crazy Horse-backed "Goin' Home," they're all delivered in the same fashion and all blend together. Instead of sounding like a refreshing change of pace, it's a muddled, aimless affair from an artist who's had too many middling efforts over the last decade.

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