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Peace Trail Warner
by Barnaby Smith | December 13th, 2016 11:05:AM EST
It's been a while since Neil Young undertook his periodic exercise in recalibration that is an acoustic album. Over a decade in fact, if you regard his last expression of relative quietude, of uncomplicated solemnity, to be 2005's Prairie Wind. This latest return to wooden instruments and unkempt production is particularly stark in the aftermath of the grungy crash of The Monsanto Years and the experimental live album Earth. Peace Trail features a couple of Young's best songs of this millennium, with the humbler arrangements offering a refreshingly plaintive backdrop for his environmental and humanitarian exhorting.
It is, though, not entirely acoustic, with combustible rages of electric guitar descending regularly to jolt songs away from rustic complacency, such as on the title track. Jim Keltner's beautifully lazy drumming, meanwhile, creates a somnolent rhythmic feel throughout, a quality which, along with Young's uncluttered songwriting, recalls some of his sprawling Seventies records, particularly On the Beach – "Can't Stop Workin'" is compelling for this reason.
However, this wouldn't be a post-2000 Neil Young album if there weren't something to wince at, and one wonders at his continuing preoccupation with Auto-Tune, which disrupts the otherwise poetic "My Pledge". That aside, this is an impassioned (and witty) set from this most dogged of iconoclasts, the colour of whose righteousness takes on different shades with every release.
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