Album of the Week: Neil Young, 'Peace Trail'

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Neil Young, 'Peace Trail'
Neil Young, 'Peace Trail' (Warner Bros. Records)
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A few weeks ago, Neil Young released Peace Trail, his 37th solo album and his second of 2016. Restless, angry, sad, profound, and busy. As he sings on the album, he "Can't Stop Workin'."

With several songs referencing water rights, native peoples, and Standing Rock, this is music in the moment, a bulletin from the front lines where Young stood and sang with protesters in North Dakota on his 71st birthday in November. And while some songs are in danger of being so topical they'll feel dated by next year, the title track, "Peace Trail," adds another classic to Neil's catalog, a song burning with optimism and inspiration for anyone seeking to make sense of where we're headed.

Recording quickly over just four days at Rick Rubin's Shangri-La Studios in Malibu, Calif., with veteran drummer Jim Keltner and bassist Paul Bushnell, the record is mostly first or second takes — Neil favors spontaneity over labored song construction, which has been his preference since the late '60s. Of course, writing in the moment is nothing new to Neil Young, who penned the classic Crosby Stills Nash and Young song "Ohio" in 1970 just days after Kent State.

The performances captured on Peace Trail are ragged and raw, Neil alternating between acoustic and electric guitars, with Keltner's drums sounding like they were mic'd from the next room — his playing following Young's darts and fakes like a shadow boxer. Neil is also adding a few extra touches: blowing heavily distorted harmonica, adding the odd melodica here or there, and the really odd vocoder-effected vox in places that hark back to Young's 1982 album, Trans.

Buried within the track "Can't Stop Workin'" is a plea of "forgiveness" that may be directed to Neil's former wife Pegi, whom he left for Daryl Hannah in 2014, but elsewhere he pledges his support to the earth, to the hardworking downtrodden, to Native peoples, and to peace, before ending the album with an odd song about ordering a robot from Amazon and interfacing with a Siri-esque voice to deride technology as a replacement for humanity.

Fractured, flawed, brilliant and careening, Neil Young pushes forward — as we know, he can't stop working. In an era where many stars go years between albums, he's releasing music on the pace of a Ty Segall, searching for whatever's next on his long journey from the '60s to forever. So we wrap up 2016 with an Album of the Week by one of our favorite all-time artists, Neil Young's Peace Trail.

Resources


Neil Young - official site

Neil Young, 'Peace Trail' (Amazon, CD)

Neil Young, 'Peace Trail' (Amazon, Vinyl)

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  • Neil Young
    Neil Young (Julie Gardner)

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