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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Neil Young

Living With War

Review by Gary Hill

Right off the bat, I'm not going to get into a political debate about the lyrical concepts here. I'm sure with all the press and hype that has surrounded this release that you have an understanding of where Young stands on this album. Typically when I listen to (and review music) I set aside my personal views and often ignore the lyrics altogether. So, I'm not going to get involved in that debate here. What I will say is that for those (like myself) who appreciate Neil Young's work with Crazy Horse, this one will certainly serve to get you excited. The distorted garage band sound is back, and no one really pulls that sound off better than Young. This is a strong album from an artist who (in my opinion) seldom misses. I know there are those who think that the lyrics to the album trash America. I tend to disagree. I think that he doesn't like a number of decisions that the U.S. has been caught up in, both as a society and as a governmental body, but I think he also shows a deep regard and concern for the American people and the concept of American democracy. That's my two cents, and I may be wrong. I guess I'd also have to add that in the days of Vietnam people who spoke their mind about the war and their stance against the administration's approach were respected for that. I see this album as the same thing. Perhaps, like his views or not, we should respect the fact that he felt strongly enough to put them into song - and had the talent to do it this well.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
After the Garden
Since the Joni Mitchell penned song "Woodstock," which Young and cohorts Crosby, Stills and Nash performed includes the lines "And we've got to get ourselves / Back to the garden" I was reminded of that one by this title. At first I thought that the reference was a direct one, but the more I listen to this track, the less I think that. The lyrics to this one talk what will happen, "After the garden is gone." Musically this is a hard-edged rocker with both that classic Crazy Horse distorted texture and a bit of a fifties groove inlaid on it. It's a good way to start off the disc.
Living With War
The title track comes in with more of that Crazy Horse sound, but also includes horns in the mix. While I'd say this song is interesting, it's not really as solid as the one that preceded it. Still, the vocal arrangement is effective. The segment where the "Star Spangled Banner" is quoted is especially strong, though, and lifts the rest of the track up a bit.
The Restless Consumer
This one starts more tentatively, but once it gets going it's quite tasty. In fact, musically this one has a bit more of an edge than the first two tracks. The vocal arrangement is stronger, too. It reminds me quite a bit of Young's Rust Never Sleeps album. In fact, I'd say that this song is one of the best on the CD. I like it a lot.
Shock and Awe
This one is a bit more aggressive than the tracks that have come before. It's also one of the stronger tracks on show here. In fact, it might be my favorite. The overall musical texture and the vocal arrangement are top notch for this style. It's certainly right up there with anything from Rust Never Sleeps and Ragged Glory.
Families
I would say that this is essentially a folk rock song - sort along the lines of Bob Dylan's early stuff. The only thing is that Young and band use distorted guitars to bring home the melodies. Give it a listen and you'll see what I mean. This one is good, but not great.
Flags of Freedom
This one's not bad, but a little too similar to a lot of the other music on the disc. Still, the lyrical references to Bob Dylan are kind of cool. The same can be said of the harmonica solo.
Let's Impeach the President
All right, I guess the title doesn't leave much to question about the idea behind this one. Well, it doesn't tell us much about the music, though. This one has a bit more of an open texture with an old rock and roll turned distorted texture. I think that the vocal arrangement is a strong one. This is actually one of the strongest (and catchiest) pieces here.
Lookin' For A Leader
Another strong rocker that's pretty typical in terms of style, this one is nonetheless quite potent. It's actually one of my favorites on the disc.
Roger and Out
This one's a lot slower, but definitely not lacking in power or drama. It's another strong cut that is one of the highlights of the disc. It's another that has that Bob Dylan folk song gone crunchy approach. This has the most intimate and emotional texture of any of the pieces here.
America the Beautiful
This is just what it says it is - a completely faithful acapella choir rendition of this patriotic piece of music. While it's not exactly the strongest way to end the disc, I think it was Young's way of telling us that he really does love America.
 
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