Neil Young’s new al­bum, ‘Peace Trail,’ proves he’s lost none of the fire in his belly

The Republican Herald - - ENTERTAINMENT - By RANDY LEWIS

Neil Young was toy­ing with the idea of put­ting his own idiosyn­cratic spin on one of punk-poet Patti Smith’s sig­na­ture songs.

He’d been talk­ing pol­i­tics, mainly the wide­spread ex­pres­sions of alien­ation by vot­ers lead­ing up to the 2016 U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

“Only peo­ple can take back the power,” Young, 71, said, sit­ting in the liv­ing room of his man­ager’s house in Topanga Canyon on a re­cent morn­ing, nosh­ing on a plate of huevos rancheros.

He was wear­ing a black porkpie hat, his strag­gly gray­ing hair ex­tend­ing down to­ward the col­lar of a shirt cov­ered by a char­coal sweater with light-gray patches on the el­bows. Black jeans and black mo­tor­cy­cle boots com­pleted the look.

“It’s like the Patti Smith song ‘Peo­ple Have the Power,’ but now it’s like ‘Peo­ple Sold the Power,” he said, ref­er­enc­ing the amount of per­sonal in­for­ma­tion con­sumers are will­ing to share in ex­change for con­ve­nience.

“‘Peo­ple Sold the Power’ — that’s a good one. Hey, El­liot!” he yells to get the at­ten­tion of long­time man­ager El­liot Roberts, who had stepped out of the room. “I think that’d be good. The boys would en­joy do­ing that one. It’s al­ready writ­ten. You just have to use the reg­u­lar song and change one word and it’s a com­pletely dif­fer­ent thing.”

He laughs at his own joke, then shifts gears again. “Oh, never mind … . Peo­ple sold the power, but they can have it back. They just have to want it, then they can have it back. It’s pretty sim­ple. It’ll be a bat­tle, but they can get it back.”

It was just a few days af­ter he and his lat­est band of mu­si­cal co­horts, the Prom­ise of the Real, had won over au­di­ences at the Desert Trip rock su­per­star blowout in In­dio.

The group’s in­cen­di­ary, top­i­cal per­for­mances set cell­phones shin­ing among the 75,000 con­cert-go­ers in front of the mas­sive stage at the Em­pire Polo Field.

On stage and in per­son, he’s been out­spo­ken over what’s been hap­pen­ing in North and South Dakota be­tween Na­tive Amer­i­cans and pro­po­nents of the Dakota Ac­cess pipe­line.

Af­ter months of protests by thou­sands of self-pro­claimed “wa­ter pro­tec­tors,” the Army Corps of En­gi­neers on Dec. 11 de­nied per­mis­sion for the pipe­line to cross un­der a sec­tion of the Mis­souri River, hand­ing at least a tem­po­rary vic­tory to the Stand­ing Rock Sioux tribe and its sup­port­ers.

Those who have op­posed the pipe­line have done so out of con­cern that it could rup­ture and con­tam­i­nate the river, which they say pro­vides drink­ing wa­ter to the tribe and 17 mil­lion other Amer­i­cans.

Such themes fig­ure promi­nently into the new al­bum he banged out quickly over the sum­mer, “Peace Trail.”

He was so pas­sion­ate about the new songs that he in­cluded sev­eral dur­ing his two Desert Trip per­for­mances. The new al­bum’s com­bi­na­tion of po­etic grace and sonic fury makes it one of the most in­vig­o­rat­ing of his long ca­reer, demon­strat­ing anew that Young has no in­ten­tion of go­ing qui­etly into the night.

“This record has a good feel­ing,” he said. “When some­thing may be worn out, thank God or the Great Spirit or who­ever for some­thing new that is com­ing. That’s the great­est news you could ever have. Maybe it’s a baby, maybe it’s a move­ment, maybe it’s a way of think­ing, maybe it’s evolution. Who knows? But it’s a big deal, and it’s not a bad feel­ing.”

One of the new songs that gen­er­ated a hearty re­sponse at Desert Trip was “Show Me,” in which Young sings, “When the women of the world are free to stand up for them­selves/And the prom­ises made stop gath­erin’ dust on the shelves.”

That cou­plet sparked a hearty cho­rus of cheers among women in the au­di­ence.

“When I first sang that, I think it was in Tel­luride, and I heard that sound,” he said. “I’ve never heard that be­fore: all the women in the au­di­ence spon­ta­neously erupt­ing into ap­plause, or en­cour­age­ment, or what­ever it was — recog­ni­tion?”

Af­ter more than a half-cen­tury as one of rock’s most revered song­writ­ers, lead gui­tarists, band lead­ers and singers, Young trusts his cre­ative muse.

“I gave up a lot of dis­ci­plines on this record,” he said. “There are sev­eral tech­ni­cal things about the po­etry of writ­ing this that are pretty sloppy. But it didn’t mat­ter. So I feel good about that. I didn’t feel the need to go back and cor­rect things.

“I don’t have spell-check,” he said with a side­ways smile. “I don’t make (spell­ing) mis­takes that are to­tally stupid mis­takes like spellcheck does. But I make my own kind of mis­takes — typ­ing er­rors.”

He seems for­ever buf­feted by his love-hate re­la­tion­ship with tech­nol­ogy. One of the first rock artists to adopt wire­less gui­tar and mi­cro­phone equip­ment in the late 1970s, he’s also in­vested mil­lions over the last decade con­vert­ing and road-test­ing a gas-guz­zling 1959 Lin­coln Con­ti­nen­tal into an ecofriendly lux­ury car with near-zero car­bon emis­sions.

He was an early adopter of high-res­o­lu­tion Su­per Au­dio Com­pact Disc (SACD) for­mat and since has cham­pi­oned high-res dig­i­tal down­loads for his Pono mu­sic play­back sys­tem.

But he’s re­cently traded his state-of-the-art smart­phone for an old flip phone that al­lows only phone calls and text mes­sages — pri­vacy con­cerns again. He also ex­pressed frus­tra­tion at be­ing un­able to find a sim­ple word pro­ces­sor, one that doesn’t con­nect to the In­ter­net, as his pre­ferred method for writ­ing songs and other tasks.

He re­cently penned an open let­ter that he and his girl­friend, ac­tress-ac­tivist Daryl Han­nah, wrote and pub­lished re­cently urg­ing Pres­i­dent Barack Obama to defuse ten­sions sur­round­ing the pipe­line project, where law en­force­ment of­fi­cials have used high-tech sonic weapons and other meth­ods to dis­rupt Na­tive Amer­i­cans’ protests. He al­ludes to that sit­u­a­tion specif­i­cally and to the mis­treat­ment gen­er­ally of Na­tive Amer­i­cans in the new song “In­dian Givers.” “There’s a bat­tle ra­gin’ on the sa­cred land/Our broth­ers and sis­ters had to take a stand/Against us now for what we’ve all been doin’/On the sa­cred land there’s a bat­tle brewin’.”

“What’s hap­pen­ing at Stand­ing Rock is ac­tual his­tory be­ing made right now,” Young told The Times. “The BBC called it the largest gath­er­ing of Na­tive American tribes in more than a cen­tury.”

The swirling emo­tions also in­spired Young to turn to the other plat­form he’s used for most of his adult life: mu­sic.

“Texas Rangers” takes on the du­plic­ity of shad­owy forces im­pact­ing peo­ple’s lives, “Ter­ror­ist Sui­cide Hang Glid­ers” satir­i­cally rips into fear­mon­ger­ing about im­mi­grants, “John Oaks” is a folk­style bal­lad about a farmer protest­ing treat­ment of his hired hands, and “Glass Ac­ci­dent” reads like the most direct com­ment yet on the breakup of his 36-year mar­riage to Pegi Young in 2014. (“A piece of pa­per on the floor/Cov­ered bro­ken pieces of a love dream lin­ger­ing there/That could do some dam­age for ev­er­more.”)

He cooked up “Peace Trail” in about a week, writ­ing and record­ing at the pace of about two songs per day at Rick Rubin’s Shangri-La Stu­dios.

“I still have to Google ‘sel­f­righ­teous’ be­cause I’ve got to fig­ure out what it means, to see if it’s a good thing,” he said. “Some­body said that about the record, and maybe it’s true, be­cause that’s the way I feel. Could that be a bad thing? I can’t fig­ure it out. But I’m OK with it either way.”

RANDY BRAWDY/The Photo Ac­cess/Zuma Press/TNS

Neil Young per­forms dur­ing the 2016 Farm Aid at Jiffy Lube Live on Sept. 17 in

Bris­tow, Va.

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