Monday, February 20, 2006

Aneurysm?! We Don't Need No Stinking Aneurysm

By now, I'm sure most Neil Young fans are aware of his recent bout with a rather large, Florida-shaped cerebral aneurysm (yes, that means "in his brain"). Hey, the guy had a little brain surgery scheduled, but it wasn't until a few days later. So, he did what most of us would do. He flew to Nashville and then wrote and recorded an incredible album. Now, with the opening of the movie "Heart of Gold", which documents Neil performing this material live (also in Nashville), I figured I'd go ahead and weigh in on PRAIRIE WIND (2005).

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was lucky enough to witness Neil's amazing performance at FarmAid 2005, which included a couple of the songs from this album. In any event, I really enjoy listening to PRAIRIE WIND, and also watching the bonus DVD, which shows Neil and the gang in the studio recording this album. All the songs are Neil originals:

The Painter (4:36)
No Wonder (5:46)
Falling Off The Face Of The Earth (3:35)
Far From Home (3:47)
It’s A Dream (6:32)
Prairie Wind (7:35)
Here For You (4:32)
This Old Guitar (5:33)
He Was The King (6:09)
When God Made Me (4:06)

"The Painter" is an amazing opener, with Neil strumming the acoustic guitar, and good, old Ben Keith providing the key accompaniment. When Neil sings "If you follow every dream/You might get lost", it could be a warning, or it could just be an explanation of the many musical changes in Neil's career.

Neil adds both electric & acoustic guitar on "No Wonder", with its haunting melody recalling great folk rock tunes of the past. There are more people singing backing vocals on this song than I care to list. But, they sound great. This is followed by the very quiet introspection of "Falling Off The Face Of The Earth", which is a a wonderfully mellow tune.

The bluesy romp "Far From Home" picks up the pace, with the horns adding a great touch to Neil's spirited harmonica playing. Neil slows it back down as he plays piano on "It's A Dream". The string accompaniment here is done in a relatively understated way. I almost never think strings are necessary, but I can definitely live with them here. The lyrics "And I hold you if you've had a bad dream/And I hope it never comes true" remind me somewhat of the incredible lines "I was thinking about what a friend had said/I was hoping it was a lie" from "After The Gold Rush".

Neil moves back to acoustic guitar and harmonica for the title track. The organ and horns add nice sound, along with the great backing vocals on the chorus. This is definitely a new "classic" Neil tune, in my humble opinion. "Here For You" is a nice, quiet, acoustic love song, with Neil adding some harmonica and Ben Keith adding his typically excellent sound as well. Again with the strings, but they're not too oppressive for me here either.

"This Old Guitar" is a quiet, sentimental ode to Neil's guitar. I really can't find a way to write about this song without making it sound ridiculous, other than to say it's not as ridiculous as the concept might initially seem. It's far from an essential tune to the album, in my opinion. However, I definitely do not think it's a bad song either.

"He Was The King" is an Elvis tribute that has drawn more than a little bile from some critics, who have basically complained along the lines of "we don't need another song about Elvis being the king". It's a fair criticism, I suppose. However, this song is also a cool, harmless little up-tempo number that I happen to like. So, for future live performances, I'm offering Neil some substitute lyrics to appease these critics:

The last time I saw John Holmes
He was sticking it in a hot chick's @ss
She was begging for him to stop
But he kept goin'...hard and fast
Ahhh he was the king

The album closes with "When God Made Me", which is a song that has caused some controversy and consternation. Some compare it to John Lennon's "Imagine". I'm not too caught up in all this hype. I like the song, and here's my take. I think Neil asks us to reflect on our own spirituality, and how we approach our daily lives, and whether or not our spirituality (or professed spirituality) is truly reflected in our approach to everyday life. That's all.

Bottom line: I think the passage of time will show that this is a very good to great album. Every time I listen, I enjoy it as much or more than I did the previous listen (and I started off liking it the 1st time). For those who enjoyed HARVEST MOON (1992), it's almost unimaginable that you would not enjoy PRAIRIE WIND.


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