For me, Neil Young and Crazy Horse will always be those first few grungy chords of “Down by the River” off of Everyone Knows This is Nowhere. First that Em7 and then the D and then the slinky riff slides up the fret board on the G-string, ringing out. Later on, Young has his staccato-ed one note solo “ba-dadadada-da-da,” you can probably hear it now. Or as Young would famously say during The Last Waltz after getting himself together, “I think they got it now Bill.”
With the release of Psychedelic Pill this week, we find Neil Young back in the pocket with Ralph Molina, Frank Sampedro and Billy Talbot, better known as Crazy Horse. Crazy Horse is Neil Young's anchor. Between his forays into country rock with Harvest, Harvest Moon and Comes a Time juxtaposed with his other politically infused “message” albums, Living With War and Chrome Dreams and just about any and everything else Neil Young has thrown at a wall; Crazy Horse always stayed on hand to lend Young some dirty distorted rhythm guitar and a groove for him to just throw a verse over and then jam.
As Neil Young states on the first track of the album, he's “Driftin' Back.”
Neil Young hit me sometime around middle school. He was a musical epiphany of sorts. I was obsessed. I listen to Harvest and Everybody Knows This is Nowhere like they were gospels. The simple structure of his songs and the honesty of his voice are trademarks that define who he is as a musician. Listening to a song like “Ramada Inn” off the new album could be Neil Young and Crazy Horse from any era, but that is where its charm lies. It doesn't feel like Greendale regurgitated. It is something new and something fresh all while having that feeling of deja vu.
Remember the Rust Doesn't Sleep tour? I don't, but I have it on vinyl. It's badass. Listen to “Walk Like a Giant” off the new album and you feel that energy. It is nothing new, but it is something so invitingly familiar that you want to hear it all over again. You can even hear the fender tubes pop on the first bend-ridden solo. It's like holy shit, he's pulling a “Like a Hurricane” all over again! And he does it, you think he won't, but he does.
This is where Neil Young excels.
He has been consistently pushing himself in new directions and working like a dog since he first emerged on the music scene in the 1960s with Buffalo Springfield. He's one of the hard-working guys where you never feel like his best years are behind him. . He's had both killer stuff and shit in each decade since 1960, and he just keeps working through it.
Bob Dylan and Neil Young are the two workhorses who come to mind for me in terms of creating good, relevant music without any thought as to their legacy or touting themselves on their names alone. Dylan's “Duquesne Whistle” is a great example of this. It's a solid song and a solid video and the guy is in his sixties; reason says he should be gone, but here he is. On the note of videos, check out Young's homemade videos that accompany some of the songs on this album. They come together as a collection of fractured memories and images that move behind the music. It makes for a richer listening experience.
Along with a solid album to tour behind, Crazy Horse is Young's best outlet through which to play his music live. Watching Crazy Horse play live is not like watching a once great band come back together just to make some money. So may reunions of 1960s and 1970s icons comes off as just a sub-par last moment in the spotlight, what Neil Young is doing is on a completely different level. He makes the music he wants to make when he wants to make it and when he needs to, he brings the band back together because he's Neil Young. Watch these guys killing it with Powderfinger and tell me they are doing it just to make money.
The album Psychedelic Pill is nothing new and nothing Earth-shattering. It is simply Neil Young at his best, playing great music with the band that has always had his back when he needed to just jam and let his music take off. It is a an album full of energy and distortion that takes us to a more introspective place and it is an album well-worth listening to. For Young, it is a return to form and spirit. It is free of political messages and soapboxes and it resides in a new a-political world that seems to be a place that Neil Young and Crazy Horse feel content in.
My feeling: The entire album plays through like a road-trip through the southwest, check it out. Who cares if he's just playing an Em to a D again, it feels like meeting up with an old friend who has new stories to tell.