Neil Young & Crazy Horse – ‘Barn’ review: rugged and rural beauty, with a sense of hope

There’s a cracked and weary charm to the rock'n'roll veteran’s latest outing, an album that deftly navigates the personal and political

“I’m older now / but I’m still dreaming…” Neil Young declares on new romantic back-room blues jam ‘Shape Of You’. It’s a line that could easily define the ageing hippy, a true original who’s never wavered from the path of authenticity, sticking firmly to values of peace and love through the most troubled of times.

Such themes are never far from his heart on 41st studio album (and 14th album with long-serving band Crazy Horse) which was – fittingly enough – recorded in a converted barn high up in the Rockies. Opener ‘Song Of The Seasons‘ suggests that the magical scenery made quite the impact on the world-weary environmentalist. After a soul-striking harmonica and chords that can only come from Neil Young, he sweetly sings: “Looking through a wavy glass window / In this old place by the lake… I see that nature makes no mistake.” 

Raw and rugged at every turn, the album captures the telepathic bond that these rock’n’roll renegades have cultivated over the years. ‘Heading West’ lurches in with grunge guitars – Young pioneered the genre in the late ’80s – burning with both energy and optimism. As young sings of the good old days of fishing at the mill as a little boy, buying his first guitar and heading west, it’s a reflective and heartwarming anthem.

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It’s not long before the pressing matters arise, though. Woozy harmonicas set out the bluesy romp of  ‘Change Ain’t Never Gonna’, as Young sings of “saving the planet from the fuel burning mob” and “the government buying new cars”. His wisdom beams bright throughout; on the rollicking ‘Human Race’, he asks: “Who’s gonna save the human race / Where are all the children gonna run and hide?”

There’s scope for romance and reflection, too. ‘Tumblin’ Thru The Years’ is a spritely highlight, as Young reflects on love and the importance of a partner in crime through the complicated path of life. The angsty and emotive ‘Canerican’ comes as a love letter to Canada and America and the role the countries have played in his life and career. It could be an instant Young & Crazy Horse classic: “I am all colours / All colours is what I am / Stand beside my brothers for freedom in this land.”

As Young wrote in his 2012 memoir Waging Heavy Peace: “There is a big wind blowing today and I’m part of it. I want to make a difference.” This record lives up to those words. Of all the messages we should listen to on this album, the overriding one is that Neil Young remains as vital as he always has been.

Details

Release date: December 10

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Record label: Reprise Records

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