I often play a parlor game with friends. I say, “People always lament about what Jimi Hendrix might have accomplished if he had lived longer. Well, he might have done great things, or he might have reached a certain point and stagnated, like so many of the Sixties icons.” We then try to think of artists who had 40 or 50 year careers that have continued to grow, experiment, and change. The list proves to be a short one: Miles Davis, Jim Hall, right up until his death; Jeff Beck, for sure, Joni Mitchell, and always, Neil Young. His recent release of old Blue Note tracks is a step back. But this record, with Daniel Lanois, was a Roots Moderne, guitar noise masterpiece. Happy Birthday Neil.
I finally “got” Neil Young’s electric guitar playing with the aid of some wacky weed and a pair of headphones. His wall-of-noise solos on Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere made sense to me as Coltranesque sheets-of-sound. By the time he released Arc Weld, a collection of noise guitar out-takes from the tour that yielded Arc and Weld, I was thoroughly hooked on his angular, amp-on-the-edge-of-explosion sound.
This caused much debate in the Seventies and Eighties with guitar playing friends who were into the smoother tones of Larry Carlton and Robben Ford. I loved those guys as well, but was being slowly led by Mr. Young to a place where passion and sound trumped technique.
Young’s new record, Americana is a trip through the American songbook—no, not crooning “Autumn Leaves” with full orchestra backing. Instead, Neil saddles up Crazy Horse to reimagine tunes like “Oh Susannah,” “This Land is Your Land,” and—God help us, “God Save The Queen.”
I just checked out this gem and was gob-smacked by the master’s guitar playing again. Despite the age of the tunes, guitar playing doesn’t get more modern than this.