Review by Ellen Eldridge
Neil Young brings more than the familiar rasp of his voice to the first release in nine years; Americana captures Young’s interpretations like a history lesson in folk music. He lays down the roots of Americana culture and represents a strong collection of songs written as long ago as the 1800s like “Oh Susannah” and “Tom Dula.” Those who have never sat down and read the lyrics to “Clementine” may hear the deeper themes in the song through Neil Young though, personally, were I to play the song it would be far darker and slower; the truly depressing facts behind the song were just the way of life back when it was written so the tone in the original song surprises listeners when the lyrics are examined.
Throughout the 11 tracks, an upbeat spirit resonates against themes of crime, punishment, and what music can showcase about the history of America as well as its music. “Gallows Pole” sounds much like a Grateful Dead song; I’d never heard the original, but Robert Plant attributes his cover to Leadbelly. The liner notes for Americana, personally penned by Neil Young, points to Finland for the origins of the song, and though the writer is unknown the song is about a woman, who is condemned to die, asking the hangman to wait because someone is coming to rescue her with money (gold). Young’s character in telling the tale reminds me why I love the history embedded in folk music.
Not all of the songs on Americana come from the 1800s; Young adds the original, widely misinterpreted and often deleted, verses to “This Land is Your Land.” Woody Guthrie wrote “This Land is Your Land” in the 1940s as a response to “God Bless America;” the tension heard in Young’s voice also recalls Tori Amos’ “Cherokee” cover of “Home on the Range.”
What Neil Young and Crazy Horse have done with Americana is nothing short of an incredibly moving and enjoyable lesson in history as seen through the eyes of musicians whose songs were often categorized as “protestor songs” or “murder ballads.” In this election year many who listen to Americana won’t help but notice how truly timeless these songs and themes are.
Americana was produced by Neil Young and John Hanlon along with Mark Humphreys, and engineered by John Hanlon with John Hausmann and Jeff Pinn. It was recorded at Audio Casa Blanca by John Hanlon. It is released on May 22 on Reprise Records.
The track-listing is as follows:
Get A Job
High Flyin’ Bird
This Land Is Your Land
God Save The Queen