"Prairie Wind": A Gentle Breeze Deceptively Lulls The Howls Of Loss
Reviews have been rolling in for Neil Young's newest album "Prairie Wind" and mostly positive. In addition, the CD is doing very well in the sales department -- currently ranked as the #1 top seller on Amazon.com after fluctuating around #2, #3, #4 over past several days behind Paul McCartney and Barbra Streisand, no less?!
With all that has happened to Neil over the past year or so, it is no wonder that critics are zeroing on these incidents as way of explaining the motivations and intentions of "Prairie Wind". Whether it was the passing of the mother of Neil's first son - Carrie Snodgress, the death of Buffalo Springfield bass player - Bruce Palmer, the loss of his father - Scott Young, or surgery for a brain aneurysm, needless to say, the man has stared death in the face.
In fact, a closer reading of the CD booklet indicates it is "in fond memory of David Myers, Kenny Buttrey, Rufus Thibodeaux, & Scott Young".
In case you're interested, David Myers, was the cameraman that did 'Human Highway', 'Journey Through the Past', and 'Rust Never Sleeps'. Kenny Buttrey , was the drummer on the album "Harvest". Rufus Thibodeaux, was the cajun fiddler in the International Harvesters that Neil name checks on "Harvest Moon".
And Neil's response to these losses? Listening to "Prairie Wind", we hear a man who has lived a thousand lives and yet seems ready to live another thousand.
A USATODAY.com review by Brian Mansfield suggests that "Prairie Wind" completes a trilogy, starting with 1972's Harvest and the 30 year follow-on Harvest Moon.
Musically, "Prairie Wind" evokes the Nashville-sound. Thematically, a case can be made that it completes a trilogy with Tonight's The Night and Sleeps With Angels reviews. In so much that Tonight's The Night was haunted by the deaths of Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry and Sleeps With Angels reviews was haunted by Kurt Cobain.
Whether the completion of another Neil Young trilogy album sequence or not, "Prairie Wind" gentle breezes deceptively lull over the pain and howls of loss.
While much of the album has been politely characterized as "Neil-lite", undoubtably there are songs destined to have legs that will carry them many years forward. The most obvious song to nominate to the pantheon is the CD's final song: "When God Made Me". Without putting too fine a point on it, how can a man asking 10 questions provoke so much discussion?
Well, only Neil Young.
And so we bring you a few critic's comments. Overall, reviews have been postive, however, as with Greendale, the initial reviews underrate the album. Some even suggest that Neil's best days are long past. As always, time will tell.
Thrasher's question is will "Prairie Wind" eventually be recognized for the seminal work that it is -- much as Greendale will be recognized someday? The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the prairie wind.
Given the critics' "mild" reaction, to say that "Prairie Wind" is merely a "good Neil Young" album is to still bring high praise. A "good Neil Young" album trumps many excellent albums by most artists on any given day.
Afterall, how many masterpieces can an artist produce in one lifetime? How many artists have season after season of releasing gems like Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, After The Goldrush, Tonight's The Night, or a Rust Never Sleeps?
From the Edmonton Sun review by ANGELA PACIENZA:
"Prairie Wind is a throwback to Young's country-tinged Harvest and Harvest Moon days, which should please a significant contingent of his fan base.
The sound gives the weighty songs a gentleness entirely appropriate for an album where Young tenderly recalls his upbringing - the Prairie landscape creeps into at least four of the 10 tracks, including the current radio single The Painter. Vivid memories of the farmhouse where he was raised and the ukulele given to him one Christmas by his father shine through on Far From Home."
From Music OMH review by Tony Heywood:
"Fighting fit he may now be, but the gentle tapping of the Grim Reaper's scythe echoes throughout Prairie Wind.
From the opening finger picked guitar that ushers in "Painter" it's clear that Young is in a reflective state of mind. When he hits the beautiful high notes singing "it's a long road behind me, it's a long road ahead" and the harmonies unfurl around an aching pedal steel it's enough to melt you heart. The pedal steel guitar playing on the whole record is breath taking. It surfaces again on Here For You and the broken lament of Falling off The Face of the Earth. The texture, the pure ache, adds a timeless feel to the material. It dips them in sliver plated melancholia and wraps them tightly in a warm embrace.
The heavy trademark guitars that Young does so well arrive on the corrosive No Wonder. He has the talent of King Midas in reverse; taking golden melodies and then tarnishing them in thick charcoal angst. This is a complement. Few have the balls to wreck a melody the way Neil Young does. It starts so gently, a fragile guitar figure, fresh as a spring morning flickers softly through the verse, then down swoops the power chords, spinning blasts of noise across the song. The added bite is unleashed through the dual pronged attack of acoustic and electric guitars. The solo at the end sounds like the gates of heaven swinging on rusty hinges. The lyric centres on the refrain "tick-tock, the clock on the wall, no wonder we're losing time". The changing instrumentation reflects this, its equal measures regret and anger.
The ghost of the late great Jack Nitzsche is evoked on It's A Dream. The string-drenched ennui and plaintive piano recall the arrangements that he scored for Young on the classics After The Gold Rush and Harvest. The strings slowly climb, never overpowering the vocals, the melody spun like a spider web in the rain, its delicate nature glistening on each successive listen."
Billboard's review by Ben French is rather unkind but manages to end positively:
"The similarities to the former ["Harvest Moon"] are numerous here in chord and lyric. The strumming of "This Old Guitar" exactly matches that of the "Harvest Moon" title track, while the pensive sentiment of "Falling Off the Face of the Earth" calls to mind the syrupy, slightly repentant tone of "One of These Days."
Even his Elvis homage, "He Was the King," has its antecedent in his deceased-pet tribute, "Old King," both lowlights of their respective albums. Still, Young's shaky voice remains endearing, particularly on pleasant opener "The Painter." Familiar, yes, but not unwelcome."
In a review and interview in the U.K.'s Independent Neil Young: Gifted and Back" by Edward Helmore:
"Whether you prefer your Neil Young rocking out with Crazy Horse in the style of Ragged Glory, in the drug-soaked utopian nihilism of On The Beach, as the country rocker of After the Gold Rush or, as here, as the singer-songwriter balladeer, Prairie Wind stands in good company with two of his acoustic-centred stand-outs, Harvest and Harvest Moon. The songs, he says, "are about my family, my family history, life in general, what's going at the moment".
From a review on The Music Box by John Metzger:
"What binds the pieces of Prairie Wind together, however, are Young’s strikingly emotional lyrics, which arguably are the most revealing and intimate that he has penned since Tonight’s the Night. Indeed, throughout the set, he links together the past, the present, and the future by invoking many of the images and themes that long have surfaced within his work, but what’s different from many of his other outings is that, this time, the songs take on a greater resonance simply because of the context from which they sprang. Although there is a world-weary air of death, sadness, and mourning that hangs over the affair, there also are beacons of light that reflect within the hazy darkness of his fragmented memories."
From the esteemed Rustologist Expecting to Fly's review":
"Prairie Wind is instantly recognizable as a Neil Young album but it has many unique qualities. I'm so glad that this far down the road, he is making albums that expand the horizons of his most distinguished catalog."
But, as mentioned above, not everyone is impressed. From the AV Club review by Noel Murray:
"Neil Young is easily the most vital rock star of his generation, but that doesn't mean he can't fall into a rut. Young continues to take chances with his albums -- writing ambitious multi-song narratives, hiring veteran session men and fledgling alt-rockers, turning records into movies, and so on -- but his style remains stuck in the same dichotomous mode it's been in since 1970: He either plays loud and droning, or soft and melodic. Prairie Wind falls into the latter camp, which is good news for Young fans, since his gifts have mellowed greatly over the last decade. The noisy Young tends to be kind of dull these days, while the gentle Young creates beautiful things almost in spite of himself."
But even some of the diehard fans have expressed skepticism on Yahoo! Groups: Rust with Diniakos posting:
"I've listened thru several times and find myself completely nderwhelmed. I am not a young guy at all, 49, but this work seems ponderous and it reeks of stodgy Old Guy. I, too, have lost my dad and am getting older, but I have very high standards of expection from my very favorite muse, and this falls far short. I'm no musician, but the very melody structures seem the same as from AYP and Greendale. Neil needs to challenge himself and write more in depth, not knock out a song in 20 minutes (and brag about it!). Does he have the guts to place himself in the hands of a strong, talented producer, who would do what a good one's supposed to do, accent the music and flavor it so it sounds the best?
On a basic level, I, as a Neil fanatic, welcome all music he releases. Even with the feelings I'm writing about, I like having new Neil songs to listen to. I like the choir and Emmylou very much, as well. My main allegiance to Neil is his electric rock incarnation. I don't listen to country music anything. As I wrote just a bit ago, I have only seen two of his solo acoustic tours, and I've seen him over 20 times. I'm sure this bias I have slants my point of view, but I predict a Neil/Pegi country/acoustic PW tour."
From The Reading Experience:
"The first time I listened to this new album, I came to a conclusion similar to John Kenyon's "Things I'd Rather Be Doing" blog:. . .The disc has a few memorable moments, but like much of his work in the past decade, it is disappointing, containing neither the strong melodies nor homespun wordplay that elevates the best of his work. Instead we get odd namechecks of Chris Rock, the umpteenth song about Elvis being "the King" and a tune about Young's guitar.
I've listened to it about five times now, and it gets better each time I hear it. It's true that the disc doesn't have many "strong melodies" (except for, perhaps "The King," which is indeed more or less a throwaway, but I like it nonetheless), and the lyrics are more plainspoken in their, in this case, directly homespun way.
Musically speaking, one could swear that some of the songs are near-cousins to those on Comes a Time or Harvest Moon. But the theme of the record (or one of the themes) is the passage of time, and songs that recall old Neil Young songs is arguably an appropriate way to emphasize lyrics that often evoke Young's childhood and his childhood home in Winnipeg, Canada."
Also see Prairie Wind Nashville Memories From A Fan, Commentary on Nashville Ryman Concerts and "Prairie Wind" CD, and "Prairie Wind" Roundup. Also, more Neil Young album reviews.