Saturday, September 24, 2005

Prairie Wind: not crap, thank God

A big shout out to my secret spy at Reprise Records who got me a pre-release copy of the new Neil Young LP. As someone who regards himself as both a big fan and a harsh critic of Young's output, I can say whole-heartedly that this is easily his most satisfying release since either HARVEST MOON or SLEEPS WITH ANGELS, depending on whether you believe (like some) that SLEEPS was his last great work, or (like me) you believe it to be the start of a long decline that reached its nadir with the abysmal ARE YOU PASSIONATE?. This album is being dubbed "part three of the HARVEST trilogy", but bears little similarity to either of its supposed predecessors. One tune obviously echoes the riff of HARVEST MOON for effect, but other than that, there is little to embody the notion of the three albums sharing a concept. Instead, it often sounds to my ears like it has more in common with AFTER THE GOLD RUSH or even ON THE BEACH.

One thing it does share with its supposed stablemates is some gorgeous work from the current line-up of the Stray Gators, specifically the sinuous lap steel work of Ben Keith, and the meliflous bedding of keyboards Spooner Oldham lays down, holding everything together almost invisibly. In fact, it's in many ways Keith's album, a reminder that the man could be arguably the key collaborator of Young's career (there's a pub debate I'll doubtless have with Jeff Smith at some point: David Briggs, Stephen Stills, Jack Nietzsche, Danny Whitten, Poncho Sampedro... Who exactly did get the best out of Neil Young?).