Neil Young and Crazy Horse, “Colorado”

Neil Young and Crazy Horse
Colorado
REPRISE
7/10

At a time when most legacy rockers are hitting the road rather than bothering to write new music, Neil Young refuses to stop inventing. Along with unheard archival material and lost live works from his past, Young has been consistently putting out new albums on his own, with Lukas Nelson’s Promise of the Real ensemble, and now, with the Crazy Horse he rode in on.

For their first new record since 2012’s Psychedelic Pill, Neil Young’s Crazy Horse—featuring early Young collaborator/guitarist Nils Lofgren, along with elder Horse-men drummer Ralph Molina and bassist Billy Talbot—keep up with the old man when it comes to righteous rage and ragged rockouts.

Rather than accommodating and supplicating oneself to Shakey in the fashion of now-retired guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro, Lofgren is more at one with Young as a blistering, loose-letting six-stringer and spontaneous combuster. Their crabby improvisations and loud, tattered outbursts, detailed nicely—if not a tad tediously—in the just-released verité documentary Mountaintop, are akin to watching master painters in dueling brushstrokes, or great boxers heading into the last rounds. 

The thirteen-minute “She Showed Me Love” is a track where Lofgren and Young work out a leathery punching bag in tandem, bobbing and weaving through chord clusters, ugly riffage, and emotion-fueled extended solos. There’s something ancient and haunted in their practice and tone, fueled by the instinct of regard and good fellow–hood (to say nothing of some downright odd rhythmic choices from Molina). Going beyond Caucasian heritage and history seems to be one element of Young & Co.’s thought process here, as a chorus of Horses screech behind Neil that “No one’s going to whitewash those colors away” during the tune “Rainbow of Colors.” We have heard the causal Neil tear into corporate greed and preach anti-war sentiments and environmental concerns throughout his career; so singing the praises of a fully integrated black and brown world is a breath of fresh air. 

Make no mistake: the planet gets its moment in the sun on the album, with Neil’s usual mix of poetry and plain-spokenness. On the frankly frustrated “Shut It Down,” Neil’s creaky voice hollers out for the good through seemingly bad writing (“What about the animals? What about the birds and bees?”) while leaving Crazy Horse to do the heavy lifting of honeyed harmonies, angular rhythms, and in-the-red guitar noise. This level of directness might feel overly obvious and even trite, but Young has turned into something of a reporter in the twenty-first century, cutting to the chase when caustically addressing climate change and right-wing stupidity.

Young saves the syrupy sentiment and romantic prose for the subject of his desire, new wife Daryl Hannah, on songs like the genuinely sweet and memorably melodic “I Do”; he then holds onto such loving emotion in dedication to his old friend and longtime manager, the late Elliot Roberts, on the tender ballad “Olden Days.”

Not many artists have the guts or gumption to use their platform for the sake of poignancy and on-the-nose politicizing. That’s Young’s charm, and with Crazy Horse by his side, Colorado is the most lucid sign of sage rage that he’s put forth since The Monsanto Years.

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