I’ll just admit that when I read the track listing for “Americana,” the first CD by Neil Young and Crazy Horse in 9 years, I sighed.
Yes, I wanted to hear new music from Young but gees, do we really need another cover of American folk classics such as “Oh Susanna,” and “This Land is Your Land?” A few bars into the first track on the album, I would have answered with a heartfelt affirmative that only deepened as I heard more of these beautifully re-crafted songs.
Leave it to Neil Young to create such — let’s say elegant — rock versions of the folk classics many of us learned during elementary school sing a-longs — “This Land is Your Land,” “Tom Dula” and “Clementine.”
If a listener doesn’t tune into the words on some of the songs, it’d be easy to mistake them for modern-day rock anthems. That’s especially true on the album’s opening track “Oh Susanna,” which is awash in electric guitars and throbbing drums plus Young’s unmistakeable voices, which still have the strength and nuances they held a few decades ago.
That’s not to say that Young fires up every song he covers. “This Land is Your Land,” is a fairly straightforward cover of the much-loved Woody Guthrie tune. Same for “Travel On.” Swap out the electric for acoustic guitar on that tune, which starts with Young singing a-capella, and you could picture families playing and singing this around a campfire.
Young’s 11-song album ends with a cover of the de facto British National Anthem “God Save the Queen,” which has sparked a fair amount of outrage in the British press. The gripes seem to center around the song’s inclusion on an album titled “Americana” and the tweaks Young made to the lyrics and melody.
Young’s notes about each song on the album include his reminder that “God Save The Queen” may well have been sung in North America before the American Revolution. The tweaks, he writes, were made in part to recognize America’s subsequent independence.
I’m certainly not advocating offending a country by changing its National Anthem but Young, a Canadian by the way, certainly seems to have put a lot of thought into the song before he made the not-really-offensive-in-my-view changes. Add to that the notion that many of the songs Young covers are thought of as stuffy and old-fashioned at best by younger generations, and it leaves you questioning if such remakes are truly outrage worthy.
My view is that anyone who can make songs such as “She’ll be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” cool again and introduce classic songs to a new generation is a genius, in my view.
As a sidenote, Young and his band are now recording another album presumably of original material, according to his reps. Watch for it, hopefully later this year.
By Nancy Dunham
Artist Web link: Young’s website