Neil Young and Crazy Horse Radiate Hope on ‘Colorado’ Reunion Album
Neil Young has released a staggering thirty-eight studio albums. The latest, “Colorado,” finds him reuniting after seven years with Crazy Horse, the band with whom he recorded such classics as “Cinnamon Girl” and “Down By the River” half a century ago. For the new recording, the group flocked to a mountaintop studio in Telluride, CO, where they used oxygen tanks, sought out a full moon period, and recorded ten songs in eleven days, with analog equipment. The equipment is no surprise, as Young and co-writer Phil Baker recently published a book titled “To Feel the Music: A Songwriter’s Mission to Save High-Quality Audio.” As for the rest of the adventure, it has been documented in a film, “Mountaintop Sessions,” which will be released in select theaters worldwide along with the album. Regarding the music itself, it bears the trademark sounds of Young and Crazy Horse, but takes liberties in its stylistic forrays, yielding an especially versatile set of captivating and compassionate songs.
Opener “Think of Me” gets to a rootsy start, with heavy harmonica, and Young’s unmistakable voice appearing just moments in, as folky as ever. It’s a catchy, pastoral ditty about optimistic affirmation, with the titular suggestion peppered among lyrics about geese in the sky and galloping over prairies. This short and sweet introduction gives way promptly to the nearly fourteen minute long “She Showed Me Love.” The first line, “You might say I’m an old white guy” strikes as a bit droll and jarring, although for context, Young has described the new album as “Old guys still alive in young souls and the music they make together.” This eventually leads to the downright nutty, with Young bellowing, “I saw old white guys trying to kill mother nature” with his trademark direct delivery ringing especially unhinged, in a way that shows no acknowledgment of any absurdity. This leads into the title statement, in reference to mother nature — no surprise from Young and crew. After all, 1990’s “Ragged Glory” culminated with “Mother Earth (Natural Anthem,) and Young released an album titled “Earth” with Promise of the Real in 2016. The refrain repeats a ridiculous number of times, as if presenting nature as the only entity that has always endured. Young’s famous guitar playing is here on full display, full of rich tones and texture, slick licks, blues rock riffage and a hefty distorted chorus. By the end, the song has developed into a free jam, and you can hear how much fun the band is having, as they really rock out with blasts of noise and flashy solo passages, and then switch the beat to a swung shuffle in the very end.
“Olden Day” is a melodious rocker with a memorable main riff and generally some savvy songsmithing. As expected, it’s a song of nostalgic reflection, with Young putting on his softest, most endearing voice, to recall fond times and lost friends with an overall lighthearted positivity consistent with the sentiment of “Think of Me.” Then the sounds grow bold and bad on “Help Me Lose My Mind,” which sways with a heavy, driving central riff, and finds Young rattling away syllables about open-ended neuroses with a type of evangelical zeal. The lunatic ravings include “Gotta buy a new television / Gotta get a new display system / Make the sky look like the world is flat,” before a repeated entreaty in the chorus line. There are more guitar heroics in Young’s distinctive style, with juicy bits that stutter and morph into new shapes and dangle around the edges, making for a thrilling experience altogether.
On “Green is Blue,” Young returns to environmental concerns, describing such things as a polar bear floating “on a piece of ice from another time.” As in a couple aforementioned tracks, there are musing recollections, this time with a wistful, piano-laden arrangement, and a midsong eruption into collective harmony, upon the lamentation, “There’s so much we didn’t do / That we knew we had to do.” “Shut It Down” is a rock stomper with a collective chorus of “Shut the whole system down” sung with a certain matter-of-fact irony, while Young returns to the hollering antics of “Help Me Lose My Mind,” but this time is pointed alerts to climate change, expressing frustration with the world’s general apathy, although he determines in an eventual sweeping melody to “shut it down,” and goes on to explicitly suggest hope for the future.
For single “Milky Way,” Young again revisits memories for inspiration, but here weaves them into starry-eyed fare. The lyrics center on a single encounter with a captivating character who triggers a memory, and launches the speaker into space, inspiring such fanciful musings as “a mermaid in the Milky Way.” It’s an elegantly open-ended affair, and lyrics like “I did collide with memory / But somehow I survived / And became free” could suggest finding freedom either through or from memory, although the giddy imagery would suggest the former. The band play like a running commentary on the narrative, punctuating and fleshing out Young’s darts and leaps with their expressive stylings. There’s again plenty of stylish guitar work, and Young’s off-key, creaking bellows here seem particularly well-suited, conveying the sound of being swept away.
Young’s romantic idealism reaches outlandish heights on the twee “Eternity,” in which he sings of “Living in a house of love / For Eternity” over an appropriately prancey beat. Everything about the arrangement is charmingly childlike, with adorable touches like strategically placed chimes and voicings of “click-clack, clickety clack” with a spattering of percussion that evokes trodding horses, as Young narrates a journey on “the train of love” to a perfect world. Leave it to Young to keep the gospel steadily coming with a lead single titled “Rainbow of Colors.” This is hippie fare with folk simplicity, a singsong saturated with righteous platitudes about inclusion and acceptance. The presentation is downright farcical, however admirable the sentiment, although one has to assume that was the intended aesthetic — an anthemic condensation of principles into broadest form, devoid of pretension. And as expected, the guitars are dressed up in a way that adds a bit of edge. Finally, the concluding song circles back to the sentiments of the first. It’s a gesture of validation, and the lyrics include another mention of a flock of birds in the sky. This time it’s a minimal affair, with Young donning a frailer voice, as the band wispily keeps up. Ultimately, he of course ends on an optimistic node, with his last words, “Why do I believe in you” resonating as “I believe in you.”
“Colorado” is likely the most versatile set of songs in Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s catalogue. There is a true range on display here, with every track sonically distinct. The seasoned band is able to pull it off swimmingly, always sounding like themselves even as they dart about in their stylistic shifts, surveying understated folk, heavy rock bombast, and various sounds that conceptually realize the songs. There’s plenty of Young’s phenomenal guitar playing, an especial source of defining thrill. The lyrics are steeped in ruminative recollections, a natural occurrence from a band whose members are mostly in their seventies. Young uses his backward glances as a springboard for material, fleshing out all sorts of fare. There are some especially quirky and indulgent moments. Young exclaims occasional frustrations and takes some fanciful indulgences, some more cryptic, others with childlike directness . Environmental concern and love of the Earth of course make their way into songs. And most of all, there’s the prevailing theme of hope and idealism, a feature that makes Neil Young an exceptionally lovable figure. The band did it proper — taking their original equipment to an outlandish paradise and hammering out the songs in eleven days — and you can hear the creative camaraderie in the music. The long-awaited reunion should be much appreciated.