At the age of 75, an age when most bands and artists are concentrating on making sure they’re going to be remembered for their past achievements, Neil Young – like Paul McCartney and almost nobody else – continues to be more interested in his present.
Still restless, Young may be taking care of his archive but he’s also making new music with a frequency that would shame most of the 21st-century stadium-pop dullards currently trading under the term ‘rock’. Now he’s back again, again, with yet another album, this time with his longtime collaborators in loud, Crazy Horse: Ralph Molina, Billy Talbot and Nils Lofgren.
Recorded, as its title subtly hints, in a converted barn in Colorado, Barn is a collection of songs that sometimes sound like Crazy Horse at their most juggernautical, sometimes like the yearning country of his 1992 album Harvest Moon, and sometimes just like a group of ageing friends doing what they do best: making music as organically as anyone can with electric instruments.
There are moments like Song Of The Seasons, a wistful love song with acoustic brushes, accordion and harmonica. There are Blonde On Blonde-era Bob Dylan throwbacks like the bluesy Change Ain’t Never Gonna, or the loose-sounding Shape Of You with its country yodel and lyrical warmth: ‘You changed my life for the better, wore my love like my favourite sweater.’
There are charming moments like Tumblin’ Thru The Years, a piano tune with a gorgeous light melody, and Don’t Forget Love, another wistful number, with a fantastic bar-room piano.
Naturally, fans of the Horse will be keen to know if the Noise is still intact. And while there is a stillness to much of Barn, there are also moments of extreme power, like the fantastic Heading West, a Country Home-style chugger with a great riff and clanking piano, in which Young essentially sums up his autobiography in verse and chorus form.
There’s also the wild Human Race with its spooky ‘children of the fires and floods’ chorus and a lot of spiralling, screeching guitar. And then there’s Welcome Back, eight minutes of curiously moody and reflective noodling. This is a very good album. There might be darkness outside, but the barn is lit up by the old men playing country and rock inside.