When Neil Young Teamed Up With Friends Old and New for ‘Are You Passionate?’
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As the camouflage, rose and romantic portrait on the cover of Neil Young‘s Booker T & the M.G.’s-backed album Are You Passionate? indicates, the lyrics on many of this album’s 11 songs deal with familiar themes of love and war.
Young had toured with the famous instrumental R&B group as his backing band way back in the early ’90s, but it was nearly a decade before they released a record together. And just in case you’re not clear who’s playing behind him here, Young works musical quotes from the M.G.’s’ 1969 hit “Time Is Tight” into two tracks on the record: “Be With You” and album opener “You’re My Girl.”
The Memphis Soul legends’ tight grooves and inherent professionalism provide an interesting contrast to Young’s untamed guitar on many of the songs, even if his vocals seem oddly polished on a couple of tracks. There’s also one cut, “Goin’ Home,” recorded with his longtime go-to band Crazy Horse, and it’s a typically epic (almost nine minutes!) turn through sludgy guitars and garage-rock backbeat.
But Are You Passionate? is best known for “Let’s Roll,” a surprisingly hawkish story told from the point of view of the passengers on the doomed 9/11 Flight 93, a group of brave people who by all accounts sacrificed themselves to prevent the hijacked plane from crashing into its intended Washington, D.C. target.
The lilting, waltz-like title track visits another combat situation, with a fighter pilot recalling the day he risked all to protect what he holds dear: “I was fighting in the sky / And the gunfire kept comin’ back on me / So I dove into the darkness / And I let my missles fly / And they might be the ones / That kept you free.”
But most of Young’s energy and attention on Are You Passionate? are focused on romance. He and the band lock into a beautifully rough-hewn beat on the piano-and-organ assisted love letter “When I Hold You in My Arms,” which provides one of the album’s most welcoming settings for his fragile, emotive voice.
The album ends with one of Young’s trademark epic tracks, the nine-minute long “She’s a Healer,” which features the deepest and downright funkiest groove on the record. Everyone gets plenty of room to stretch out as Neil expresses his love, gratitude and of course, passion for his wife: “My blue-eyed woman is a healer to me / Without that woman I’m history / My blue-eyed woman is a love ghost / Without that woman I’m toast.”
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