Times and trends come and go, but one thing remains constant, Neil Young will be out there somewhere readying another album for the world. With over 40 full-length releases under his belt, it’s no surprise that this marks his 14th with Crazy Horse. Numbers aside, it’s still the rarest of things to have a partnership last over half a century, especially in the fickle world of rock ‘n’ roll. Following on from 2019’s warmly received Colorado, Young, alongside Nils Lofgren, Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina, have reunited for an organic 10-track set filled with some dizzying highs and a few lows.
Recorded this summer in a 19th-century barn located way up in the Rockies, the Horse has effectively captured their raw sound while infusing it with some laid-back charm. It’s the sound of old friends doing what they love best. When it works, it’s magic, but at other times the songs and performances do limp along, lacking focus or drive. Opener Song Of The Seasons is a real gem that could have only been crafted by this outfit. Accordion and acoustic guitar lead a campfire tale of queens and kings and the majestic power of the wind. It highlights that intoxicating skill Young has for marrying elements of folk, country, and Americana into something entirely his own.
Heading West follows, showcasing arguably The Horses’ biggest contribution to music, the proto-grunge rocker. It’s a no-nonsense stomper discussing the ‘good ‘ol’ days’ and how ‘mommy bought me my first guitar.’ Young’s tone is still raw enough to strip wallpaper, and the band adds an excellent little swing behind proceedings. It’s ain’t saying much, but it’s a jam worth cranking your speakers up for. Change Ain’t Never Gonna sees Barn hit its first stumbling block. While it has its heart in the right place, its meandering pace and clunky lyrics fall into ‘old man screaming at cloud’ territory. We should, however, be grateful that Young is still fighting the good fight rather than spouting conspiracies and nonsense like some of his peers from the ’70s era.
The soppy Shape of You holds the dubious title as the LPs worst moment. Sounding like a knackered Stones b-side played drunk at half-speed, The Horse plods along while Young struggles to hit some high notes and sing about his love. It’s three forgettable minutes only made to look worse by the following track. They Might Be Lost is a masterclass in simplicity and storytelling. Unfussy and dripping with a sense of grief, the tale of a group awaiting the arrival of absent drivers has your imagination filling in the blanks as they await the headlights in the snow. Piano and harmonica give the repeated chord sequence an level of emotional clout and help elevate the song to one of Young’s best of recent years.
Fans will also go wild for the nocturnal groove of Welcome Back. Despite being eight and half minutes in length, the song glides effortlessly, The Horse keeping things ticking along while Young’s guitar threatens to explode through the haze at any moment. It’s effortlessly cool and filled with a palpable sense of tension. It would have made for a perfect closer but is bafflingly followed by the twee Don’t Forget Love, which while nowhere as offensive as Shape Of You, manages to lose some of the momentum built by the previous winner.
Overall, Barn is a success. With its easy charm and natural atmosphere, it captures these old hands doing what they do best while still managing to spin gold in places. There’s chemistry to spare and still enough grit from time to time to excite the senses. These are earthy songs to be played on the road, to be enjoyed around a roaring fire. These are new songs that sound well-worn and well-loved – much like Crazy Horse themselves. If not that surprising a listen, it’s nearly always an enjoyable one.