Neil Young - Peace Trail - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Neil Young - Peace Trail

by James Weiskittel Rating:8 Release Date:2016-12-09

At this point, I think it’s fair to say that Neil Young has transcended his occupation as an entertainer and has entered into the ‘national treasure’ category that is currently occupied by the likes of Dylan and Springsteen.  While his expansive career initially found him right in the midst of some of music history’s biggest moments, Young quickly retreated to the fringe, content to simply march to the proverbial beat of his own drum.  Along the way he has racked up dozens of records on which he has brazenly explored every artistic whim and indulgence.  

Not unlike his peer David Bowie, Young has always seemed more interested in the process than the results, and while he may have wound up with three or four ‘head-scratchers’ (This Note’s For You) for every masterpiece (On The Beach) released, the bottom line is no two fans will agree on exactly what those masterpieces are; a feat that speaks to his continued commitment to brazenly explore each and every artistic impulse to its completion.

Peace Trail, his thirty-something-eth (depending on how you count them) studio album, was recently recorded with Rick Rubin and features Young working with a stripped down three-piece on an inspired collection of songs.  The arrangements and predictably sparse as Rubin succeeds in finding a production comfort-zone that falls somewhere on the spectrum between the classic somber of Harvest and the brash play of Zuma.

The album opens with its title track, a noisy mid-tempo number that is vintage Young (save for an ill-advised flirtation with auto-tune*) while the next two tracks (the bobbing “Can’t Stop Workin’” and the rolling “Indian Givers”) round out what is perhaps one of Young’s most impressive opening salvo this side of Silver and Gold.  

Elsewhere, there are moments of subdued intimacy (“Show Me”) as well as some obligatory pontification (“John Oaks” and “My Pledge”) while Young’s voice continues to shine throughout with Peace Trail’s ‘front and center’ mix.  While the album’s second half might lose a bit of steam (“My New Robot” is the album’s first and only real WTF? moment), most of the songs are buoyed by a handful of tasteful guitar solos as well as some incredibly effective distorted harmonica playing.

Perhaps the greatest compliment that can be paid to Neil Young is that the man has remained both prolific and relevant well into his golden years.  While the past decade has seen its fair share of well-intentioned missteps (the benign Are You Passionate? and the over-bloated Greendale immediately come to mind), Peace Trail is Neil Young at his absolute best: thoughtfully concise songs that place Young himself, warts and all, front and center.


*I get that this is a stylistic choice and that there is probably some sort of ‘between-the-lines’ observation/message at play here, but frankly it’s lost upon me, and the effect is nothing short of obnoxious.


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