Neil Young and Crazy Horse, ‘Barn': Album Review
If anyone could make the most of his lockdown, it's Neil Young. He's spent the past five-plus decades using downtime from various bands and other projects to record the new songs that seem to flow out of him with surprising regularity and oftentimes get shelved for years. He's released more than 40 studio albums since his 1969 self-titled solo debut, along with countless archival and live sets. During the COVID era, alone he's released six such records.
Barn, his 41st album and his seventh project since lockdown began in March 2020, was recorded during summer 2021 with longtime backing band Crazy Horse (drummer Ralph Molina, bassist Billy Talbot and multi-instrumentalist Nils Lofgren) in "a restored off-grid 19th-century barn high up in the Rockies." And it pretty much sounds like what you'd expect from a bunch of 70-something guys making music high in the mountains on a post-quarantine surge.
That's to say it's occasionally sloppy, often reflective and bursting with volume when the moment calls for it. In other words it's Young and Crazy Horse covering the same solid ground they've been traversing since 1969's Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and last heard on 2019's Colorado. Barn is a loose, spontaneous record that sounds as much part of its time as it does totally removed from it. (A companion Blu-ray film documents the making of the album.)
Acoustic opener "Song of the Seasons" recalls Comes a Time's gentle sway as Young's harmonica and Lofgren's accordion underpin a song about the passage of time as well as some current events. "I see the palace where the queen still reigns behind her walls and lonesome gates," Young sings. "The king is gone now, and she remains / I feel her banners rippling in the rain." Everyone plugs in for the next track, "Heading West," a guitar-guided romp that has Crazy Horse hallmarks stamped all over it, from booming distortion to off-key backing vocals.
Barn swings between these two poles in typically wired fashion: "Change Ain't Never Gonna" is garage-rock workout; "They Might Be Lost" is mournful rumination on missed companions that has bigger implications. "Today's People" gives in to ragged rage; "Tumblin' Through the Years" accentuates its heart with tinkling piano. The album's weakest songs – "Canerican" and sappy closer "Don't Forget Love" – happen to be two of the most personal ones. But like most Young-Crazy Horse LPs, Barn centers itself on a lengthy number, in this case the eight-and-a-half-minute "Welcome Back," a slow burner about "stars in the sky" and losing direction before finding peace. That's more or less been the essence of their collaborations for more than half a century now, and their return to familiar ground here feels like home.
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