Neil’s restlessness, or perhaps just his desire to explore, has led to some unconventional performances documented recently. Le Noise was him and an old electric guitar, whilst A Letter Home had him singing covers into an old Voice-O-Graph. So as the latest series of experiments, Storytone comes in two formats: a full orchestral album and its acoustic demos. These two versions band-aid each other’s weak points to make this one of Young’s best albums since 2005’s Prairie Wind.
The orchestral album is glorious, though predominantly when Young reflects. “Plastic Flowers” and “Glimmer” combine Neil’s country crooning with Jack Nitzsche–esque strings, the lavish swoop that made Harvest so special. “Glimmer” and “All Those Dreams” in particular could soundtrack a Disney animation in the best possible way. Randy Newman would be proud, as would Brian Wilson. With Young in such a humble mood, it’s the bravado that falters; “Say Hello to Chicago” and “I Want to Drive My Car,” for all their brassy fanfare, don’t really work with Neil in cat-meowing mode. However, taken back to their acoustic basics, they sound raw, exposed, and broken by the blues, making every acoustic version sublime. This is a very fine Neil Young album, indeed.