Hippo Manchester
October 27, 2005

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Neil Young

Prairie Wind

***

I’m betting, at 59, Neil Young wouldn’t say he’s released a swan-song album, but Prairie Wind sure sounds like one.

Johnny Cash did it, with The Man Comes Around. Warren Zevon did it, with The Wind. Even George Harrison played his own death knell on Brainwashed.

Young is not dying, although he did have a brain aneurysm operated on while recording Prairie Wind. Still, it’s been a rough few years for the rocker, what with the death of his father, as well as the mother of his first child. Whatever the reason, Prairie Wind, a return to Young’s country-rock roots, is steeped in mortality.

The result, mixed with Young’s reedy tenor voice, is not what you’d call comfortable. Edgy, yes. Thought-provoking, yes. But not easy to listen to.

There are many great songs on the disc (“This Old Guitar,” “Falling Off the Face of the Earth” and the Elvis homage “He Was the King” stand out in particular) but the album, taken as as a whole, blends into a whining dirge. And there are horns in unexpected and, perhaps, not wholly appropriate places.

Young falls into the Tom Petty-Bob Dylan school of vocalists. None of them can sing worth a damn, but that lack of ability seems to let honest emotion show through the lyrics. So, even with the horns, the songs on Prairie Wind ring true, reinforcing Young’s always stellar lyrics. (Yes, he’s gone back to his Crazy Horse years.)

Prairie Wind is a portrait of an artist at the top of his game, who realizes, perhaps, he doesn’t have many innings left. Here’s hoping Young realizes that 60 is the new 50 and cheers up a bit for his next release.

— Robert Greene