In Re­view: Neil Young’s “Peace Trail” al­bum

Cecil Whig - - ACCENT - By JOE ANTOSHAK

jan­toshak@ches­pub.com

It’s easy to ar­gue that Neil Young’s time as a mu­si­cian with wide­spread so­cial rel­e­vance has come and gone. That might be true.

But it ap­pears not to mat­ter to Young, whose new al­bum “Peace Trail” (out Dec. 9 on Reprise) is a typ­i­cally po­lit­i­cal af­fair, com­plete with crit­i­cism of the Dakota Ac­cess Pipe­line, Is­lam­o­pho­bia and, maybe most re­fresh­ingly, him­self.

This is Young’s 38th studio al­bum and a de­cep­tively am­bi­tious one. For the most part, it’s sparsely pop­u­lated with acous­tic and light-crunch gui­tars, nat­u­ral per­cus­sion and his airy, dis­arm­ing voice. There’s the oc­ca­sional auto-tuned verse, like on the ti­tle track, or a har­mon­ica rail­roaded with dis­tor­tion, like on “Ter­ror­ist Sui­cide Hang Glid­ers,” but they’re not ex­actly the norm. These sounds are jar­ring, and also clearly in­ten­tional, as if to sig­nify how a rapidly chang­ing world has af­fected Young’s mu­sic. It’s not al­ways pleas­ant.

Through­out, Young presents him­self as some­thing of a crabby man with nonethe­less in­ces­sant en­ergy for so­cial jus­tice. If “Peace Trail” is any in­di­ca­tion, he hasn’t re­ally mel­lowed from the decades-ago days of “Ohio,” he’s just aged a bit. He may not ex­actly be an old sage, but he can at least be seen as some­one in sol­i­dar­ity with ef­forts for so­cial pro­gres­sion in 2016.

“In­dian Givers,” for which Young re­leased a mu­sic video on YouTube in Septem­ber, is one of the eas­i­est-de­ci­phered protest songs on the al­bum. On it, he voices his op­po­si­tion to the construction of an oil pipe­line in North Dakota that sev­eral Na­tive Amer­i­can tribes and other ac­tivists fear will harm sa­cred lands and burial grounds, as well as pol­lute the Mis­souri River.

He sings: “Now it’s been about 500 years, / we keep tak­ing what we gave away. / Just like what we call ‘In­dian givers,’ / it makes you sick and gives you shiv­ers.”

He moves on to speak on the hu­man ten­dency for trib­al­ism with sim­plic­ity and some play­ful­ness. On “Ter­ror­ist Sui­cide Hang Glid­ers,” he sings: “I think I know who to blame: / It’s all those peo­ple with funny names, / mov­ing in to our neigh­bor­hood. / How can I tell if they’re bad or good?”

Young’s fi­nal song, “My New Ro­bot,” is one of “Peace Trail’s” finest. It brings what is usu­ally a tired theme of how tech­nol­ogy ad­versely af­fects ev­ery­day life to a sat­is­fy­ing head, and moves from beau­ti­ful and melan­cholic to hu­mor­ous in about two-and-ahalf short min­utes.

“It’s a lonely cup of cof­fee, ‘cause my baby’s gone. / Some­one has to work, I know that’s true. / Car­pen­ters bring lad­ders; I bring love to you. / Their work­ing day be­gin­ning un­der skies of blue / is just now get­ting started, and I’m sit­ting un­der a tree / singing a song and think­ing of you. / My life has been so lucky, the pack­age has ar­rived. / I got my new ro­bot from Ama­zon.com.”

The song trails off to ro­botic voices giv­ing com­mon in­ter­net com­mands and ends abruptly with a voice “pow­er­ing off.” It’s a bril­liant and un­der­stated song that cap­tures Young’s protest essence with­out com­ing across as over-the-top. Don’t sleep on it. Don’t sleep on him.

Ev­i­dently, his slow burn has him grow­ing like a tree, chang­ing a lot but not too quickly, all the while keep­ing in ac­cor­dance with his na­ture.

Long live Young.

Ver­dict: 4.5 out of 5

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF WIKI COM­MONS

Rosa Parks smiles for a pic­ture in 1955. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stands in the back­ground.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF JOANNE BIERLY

Sev­eral tour-go­ers make their way into the Port De­posit Pres­by­te­rian Church dur­ing the Can­dle­light Tour in 2012.

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