Promise of the Real / Neil Young

Paradox [Original Music from the Film]

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Saying Neil Young has built a career out of following his muse wherever it may lead is a dramatic understatement. But even by his own free-spirited standards, Young's work in the 21st century has been wildly idiosyncratic, with the venerable songwriter frequently using his albums as broadsides for his causes of the moment and diving into his music headfirst with little concern about fidelity or neatness. Even by these standards, Young's soundtrack to the film Paradox is very much a mixed bag, though this time he alone can't be held entirely responsible. Paradox was directed by actress and activist Daryl Hannah (who is also Young's significant other), and it's hard to tell how much of the disjointed nature of the album can be chalked up to the requirements of Hannah's film and how much is just Neil being Neil. Set in a future when men and women live as separate tribes in a manner that recalls the Old West, much of Paradox sounds like it was recorded around a campfire, with Young and the members of Promise of the Real (the band led by Willie Nelson's sons Lukas and Micah, who backed Young on his albums The Monsanto Years and The Visitor) tackling Jimmy Reed's "Baby What You Want Me to Do?," Willie's "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground," and the Turtles' "Happy Together" like ancient folk standards. At some point, the characters apparently rediscover electricity, with Young and the band tearing into grand, noisy versions of "Cowgirl in the Sand" (here billed as "Cowgirl Jam") and "Running to the Silver Eagle" that demonstrate Promise of the Real can channel Crazy Horse with genuine authority. "Show Me" and "Tumbleweed" sound somewhat better here than they did on (respectively) Peace Trail and Storytone, and there's a nice solo version of "Pocahontas" with Neil at the pump organ. But the six "Paradox Passage" tracks are guitar meanderings that make Young's Dead Man soundtrack seem like a lost masterwork, and ultimately the aimless leaps from one sound to another prevent this music from truly coming together as an album. As odd Neil Young albums go, Paradox doesn't hold a candle to Americana or A Letter Home, but this could have been trimmed down to an EP and it would have worked better. Fans will want to give it a listen, but they might not pull it off the shelf again for a while.

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