Have you ever been to one of those music groups for little kids? If you haven’t, let me paint the picture for you. You have 5-10 infants in a room with a parent or guardian (usually a mom) and a hired musician usually playing 8-10 kids songs on a guitar while the mom attempts to stimulate the child between a few sentences of adult conversation. Usually the performer is mediocre at best, and that’s just fine since the intended audience isn’t really paying attention, nor are they able to provide feedback beyond falling asleep, drooling or crying. There’s not much you can do to improve these classes, unless of course you can hire a great rock ‘n’ roll band to put their spin on some of these timeless and overdone standards. And that’s exactly what you get on the new Neil Yong and Crazy Horse album, Americana, their first in more than nine years.
Now I’m not calling Americana a children’s album – it’s far too rockin’ for that – but the album is a collection of nine classic American folk songs that wouldn’t be out of place around a campfire or in the aforementioned children’s’ music class. It’s as though Crazy Horse took a gig only to realize they were playing to a room of preschoolers and rather than pack it in, they rocked the house the only way they know how. And while it’s great to hear Crazy Horse roar again on songs like “Oh Susannah”, “Clementine” and “This Land Is Your Land” you would hope there might be some new original material for Neil to unleash. This almost feels like a quickie jam session turned stopgap release, but I have to figure Neil doesn’t have any reason to push out product so this project kind of baffles me. I’m not sure what theme or message Neil and the Horse are trying to convey with this album, but he’s clearly celebrating the greatness of the old folk tradition of passing along songs from one generation to the other.
One thing is for certain, there’s no denying the power of Crazy Horse and Neil’s feedback/overdrive, single-note guitar solos. While the material may not be optimal for fans craving new material, it’s great to hear Neil’s guitar and voice together again with original members Billy Talbot (bass), Ralph Molina (drums) and Frank “Poncho” Sampedro (guitar). The quartet bounce their way through the material with standout performances of “Gallows Pole” and a barn-burning rendition of “God Save The Queen”.
If you’re not already a fan, this album isn’t likely to turn you on to Neil Young and Crazy Horse. But it you are a long-time die-hard, then this might be the one to share with the next generation of music fans growing up around you.