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CD review: Neil Young and Crazy Horse reunite … and play folk standards?

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Matt Wardlaw

The Details

Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Americana
Three and a half stars

There’s a good reason the songs on Americana sound somewhat familiar: Neil Young’s latest focuses on a selection of American folk standards, dating as far back as the 1800s. Despite the inclusion of family favorites like “Oh Susannah” and “Clementine,” though, this is no children’s album. In the hands of Young and his longtime backing band Crazy Horse—together for the first time since 2003’s Greendale—these olden tunes are transformed into what could nearly pass as modern-day Young originals, turbo-charged with unflagging energy, loads of guitar solos and organically improvised riffing.

Americana’s material provides a forum for Young to act simply as a storyteller, a role he knows quite well. The tale of “Clementine” unwinds naturally; although confident, Young delivers the well-known verses in an ambling vocal style that mirrors the easygoing feel of so many of his own classic compositions (think: “Like a Hurricane”). Meanwhile, a sprawling version of “Tom Dula” (better known to many as “Tom Dooley”) is slathered with distortion as it tells the classic story of a Confederate soldier convicted of murder under dubious circumstances and sentenced to death.

Americana falters occasionally. “Get a Job,” a doo-wop number originally recorded by The Silhouettes, features background vocals that will make you wonder if Sesame Street’s Yip-Yip aliens are guesting. More often, however, Young sounds reinvigorated—both by his material and his musical reunion with Crazy Horse. And if folk standards aren’t your bag, don’t worry; an album of new, Horse-backed originals is reportedly coming later this year.

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