Neil Young and Crazy Horse are more than a legacy act: While their contemporaries play the same old songs, ‘Barn’ shows Young and Co. are just getting warmed up.
Stream: ‘Barn’ – Neil Young and Crazy Horse
Legacy acts have two options. The first path sees them safely rest on their laurels and regurgitate the same songs every night, content with enough classic albums for an anniversary tour whenever needed. The Rolling Stones—who’s last album of originals was released in 2005—are the prime example. The second way is tearing up the past, barreling into the future with new songs and an urgency that can only come with the slipping away of time.
Neil Young is the master of this approach.
His latest offering, Barn, offers another ten wistful songs to his six decade catalog. He seems intent to spread his message of love until he no longer can, writing new ideas and digging up old ones to give him multiple releases yearly: As a man clearly obsessed with control, this should be of little surprise. As fans obsessed with Young, we’re in for a great stretch.
Out in the wilderness of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, Crazy Horse are perfecting the grunge-meets-Harvest sound that gets better with the mellowing effect of age. Barn is lyrically urgent, discussing the collapsing environment and the messy politics of his adopted homeland without ever feeling preachy. The band’s chemistry—rounded out by Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina and Nils Lofgren—and the freedom of recording live from the floor creates an album that is energetic and light, bringing out the best in them all.
Where the album really takes off however, is viewed with the accompanying film. It captures not only the album, but this current point in Young’s career. Tracks like “Song of the Season” plays while time-lapsed footage filmed around the barn zoom by. It feels like a retrospective on someone far from finished, a visual representation of all the longing expected from a Neil Young album. The band may be trucking forwards, but their lyrics are looking back. Actress Daryl Hannah—who directs under the name DHLovelife—captures this essence in a simple manner. All of Young’s brilliance comes to the forefront, begging the question: Can you even be a legacy act when you’re still putting out relevant music that rivals your best work?
Unlike the film that was released along with Colorado, Young is friendly, chatty and, dare I say it, occasionally jovially. During one of these moments, as the band relax between takes, Young’s musical philosophy comes to the forefront. “It takes a little bit of time and if you feel it when it goes down, you don’t have a thing to worry about for the rest of your life. It’s not something you thought of, it’s something that happened,” Young tells Lofgren. Even if there are mistakes, why change it? “It’s not going to be better, it’s just going to be different.”
This love of first takes and working quickly may be tough for the musicians, but it creates music that is all heart, soul and vigour. Fans may miss epics such as “Cortez the Killer,” but it’s tough not to love “They Might Be Lost” or “Heading West” just as much. For a band that came into the studio with few songs written—Young wrote “Human Race” on the way to the barn, with the album’s recording being the first (and last) time the band played it—Young’s 41st album showcases technical ability and the fun of exploring it.
As you hit inevitably hit repeat on Barn, one thing becomes clear: It may not always be perfect, but my god it always feels good.
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