By Brian Ives
Over the past few years, every Neil Young album has had an angle: last year’s The Monsanto Years featured Willie Nelson’s kids’ band Promise of the Real and was a screed against the agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation. 2014’s Storytone saw young backed by a symphony orchestra. 2014’s A Letter Home, meanwhile, saw Young recording solo acoustic versions of covers, recorded at Jack White’s Third Man Records.
This time on Peace , the angle is that there’s really not much of an angle: it’s just Young fronting a trio. Young is accompanied by drummer Jim Keltner and bassist Paul Bushnell. That’s about it. Young has toyed with the trio format before (on 2003’s Greendale and on much of 2006’s Living With War and parts of 1989’s Freedom). Here are some of the album’s highlights.
“Can’t Stop Workin’” – On this acoustic tune, Young asks: “Where have I been for all these years? I thought I knew you better. Come on down to the edge of the sea and write a letter, there in the sand.” He can’t stop working, he sings, but he might take time off for forgiveness. He doesn’t get specific, but his frantic release schedule of the past fifty years, one can assume, has taken a toll on his relationships with family and friends. And he expresses as much in his lonesome distorted harmonica solos as he does in his lyrics.
“Texas Rangers” – This song, based on a bouncy acoustic riff is one of the album’s more politically charged moments. Young sings, “Lost, in the sandbox/Just left there, for no one to enjoy/Found, by the police/Who killed it, were filmed on the phone.” As with many Young songs, you never really know what’s happening exactly, but it seems inspired by events of the past two years.
“John Oaks” – Young sings about John Oaks, a farmer who tries to stick up for himself and his workers. But when he clashes with the politicians, and later the police, it doesn’t end well. Young plays most of the song on acoustic, but busts out the electric guitar for a brief stinging solo.
“Glass Accident” – A mellow song propelled by Young’s electric guitar. A sadder and more reflective version of his Crazy Horse classic “F—in’ Up,” Young sings “Woke up this morning to a glass accident/Glass fell in love with the floor.” Later, he muses, “Just imagine what could go wrong/And how some life’s could change forever/If you’re not careful how you handle delicate things.”
“My New Robot” – One of Young’s weirdest songs, it starts out as an acoustic love song, as Young sings about how the day “Is just now getting started/And I’m sitting under a tree/Singing a song/And thinking of you,” but when his robot, that he ordered from Amazon-dot-com arrives, the song veers between Harvest and Trans, until the song, and the album, abruptly end as the robot tells him “Your media is already chosen/Based on your habits/Powering off.”