Rock 'n' roll's number one chameleon has once again changed his colors. Neil Young is back on the charts sporting a brassy R&B sound, a sassy band called the Bluenotes and a new hot album that actually makes you want to dance.
Neil Young singing rhythm and blues? Dance?As hard as it may be to imagine, folk-rock hero Neil Young is raising eyebrows with his deliciously seductive "This Note's For You," a foray into the grooves and crunch of barroom blues.
While most critics tolerated Young's exotic musical explorations, few have ever really liked them. Over the course of 22 albums since 1969, there were the dabblings in rockabilly, country, synthetic sounds, hard rock and even "white noise" punk.
Just when you thought there was no other direction for Young to go, he steps outs with "This Note's for You," an album that has even long-time skeptics singing praises.
Just why they like it is anybody's guess. Sure, it's fun to listen to. Sure, it's a well-crafted collection of tunes that makes you feel like dancing. But dancing is not what most folks buy a Neil Young record for. ("Cinammon Girl" was probably the last Neil Young song anyone ever felt like really dancing to, and that was almost 20 years ago.)
The facts are, Young has carved his niche in rock 'n' roll history by blending insightful, philosophical lyrics with folksy, often self-righteous vocals. It was always what he had to say, not how he had to say it.
With "This Note's for You," fans and critics alike are responding to the sound of the music, not so much what the songs have to say. Not that Young doesn't have something to say. Just that it's said in a bluesier, more simplistic sort of way. Such as, "Ever since I was knee high, I rocked my blues away, but people sleepin' on the sidewalks, and families in need, murder in the home, and crime on the streets - that's life in the city."
Sometimes the subject matter is more personal, like on the haunting "Coup de Ville," where Young croons, "I got a right in this crazy world, to live my life like anyone else, how long can I carry this monkey around, all by myself."
Those are topics worth singin' the blues over, and Young puts his heart and soul into it. He is both sincere and captivating.
The album opens with the rough-and-tumble "Ten Men Workin' ", a blue-collar single getting a lot of local airplay, and shifts gears constantly from there. There are soothing ballads, dark barroom laments, be-bop dance tunes, brassy barn-burning rock and even some folksy tunes - all done with underlying blues.
Young is backed up by a hodgepodge new band, which includes longtime partners Frank Sampedro on keyboards and Ben Keith on sax. The rhythm section features drummer Chad Cromwell and bassist Rick Rosas.
The horn section includes Steve Lawrence, Claude Cailliet, John Fumo, Tom Brea and Larry Craig, all veteran East Los Angeles club players of local repute.
"This Note's for You" also marks Neil Young's return to the Reprise Records label after a six-year stint with Geffen. Young started on the Reprise label in 1969.
"Because he was one of the first and most important artists on the label, there's no one I can think of to better represent both the heritage and the future of Reprise," said Mo Ostin, board chairman of Warner Brothers Records.
"This Note's For You" will not go down as one of Neil Young's best albums. But it will go down as one of his better ones - perhaps one that signals a return to the glory days of "Comes a Time," "After the Gold Rush" and "Harvest."
Young is currently in the studio with David Crosby, Graham Nash and Stephen Stills working on a new CSN&Y album - the first CSN&Y studio album since the classic "Deja Vu" in 1970.
So far, eight songs have been recorded in a barn on Young's ranch outside San Francisco. "It sounds great - I love it," Young told Rolling Stone. "There's an incredible energy among the four of us."
Also in the works is another Neil Young chronology, tentatively titled "Decade 2."