Neil Young & Crazy Horse
I don’t know who exactly had the bright idea of assembling a covers album for Neil Young’s first album with Crazy Horse in almost ten years. I’m guessing it was Neil himself, but I don’t want to believe it because it is about as unnecessary an album as they come. Covers albums aren’t always bad (see Johnny Cash and Aerosmith), but when artists decide on one, there is a very fine line that one needs to tread. With Americana, Neil Young takes a collection of American traditionals and puts the Crazy Horse stamp of loose instrumentation and grungy rock on them.
Someone just needs to tell me what the point of such an accomplished artist as Neil Young covering the likes of “Oh Susannah”, “This Land is Your Land”, and “Jesus’ Chariot (She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain)” is. Maybe, being a native Canadian and adopting the United States as his home, gives Young a greater appreciation for these fossils. Maybe Neil meant for the entire project to be more tongue-in-cheek than it comes across, but I highly doubt it. Any rationalization is not strong enough for me when Young could be doing something much more relevant..
These songs just don’t carry a lot of weight anymore. For the most part, they are historical artifacts that maybe can be used to teach someone about traditional folk music. Neil Young & Crazy Horse don’t bring much interesting to the table outside of striking up a conversation on the futility of the record. At points, Neil even struggles to deliver the lyrics with sincerity, and sincerity has always been one of his strengths as an artist. But really, how can Neil Young deliver lines like “I come from Alabama with my B-A-N-J-O on my knee” with much sincerity? A bigger problem than Young’s delivery on “Oh Susannah” is the obnoxiously repetitious backup vocals.
These backup vocals on the opening track are just a harbinger of things to come in the over-indulgence department. Neil’s wailing of “Clementine” on the track of the same name makes you want to beat your head against a wall. I have always had an affinity for Neil’s unique voice (to put it kindly), but on Americana he takes he is more than over-aggressive with his warbling.
Not everything on Americana is terrible though. “Wayfarin’ Stranger” is one of the few ports in the storm, and the main thing it has going for it is it doesn’t engage in massive overkill like most of the rest of the album. It is kind of just a classic little Neil acoustic number with some very light backup vocals that augment rather than get in the way. Neil does the classic Burl Ives version justice, and if Neil Young wanted to do a covers album he should have kept it in this vein.
As much as it has pained me to rip on my favorite artist of all time, I have to call Young out on this one. The silver lining is that he didn’t release the worst covers album of the year. That honor would have to belong to Paul McCartney’s Kisses on the Bottom. A general hold should probably be put on similar projects until the concept has been vetted by individuals that are not the artist him/herself. The old-timers should keep their appreciation for these old tunes to being expressed around a campfire amongst close friends. The masses kindly pass on Americana, which can summarily be termed as a big bowl of terrible.
Can’t Miss: “Wayfarin’ Stranger”
Can’t Hit: “This Land is Your Land”, “Jesus’ Chariot”, “Oh Susannah”, “God Save the Queen”
Post-Script Aimed at Wes: I think Wilco should only do cover albums because their originals are terrible.