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Archive for July, 2015

ny-monsantocoverNeil Young + Promise Of The Real – The Monsanto Years

Ever since 2012’s superb reunion with Crazy Horse on Psychedelic Pill, Neil Young has run-off a steady, but increasingly spotty string of albums: including last fall’s symphonic experiment Storytone and the even weirder, low-fi covers album A Letter Home (recorded entirely in Jack White’s phono-booth).

On his latest, The Monsanto Years, Neil Young is joined by Promise Of The Real, a band featuring Willie Nelson’s sons Lukas and Micah for some good old fashioned, rabble-rousing rock and roll protest music.

The problem when Neil Young makes records like this isn’t so much with the political sentiments he posits in the lyrics – most of which, I share – but rather, with how he delivers the message. On The Monsanto Years, Young literally bludgeons the listener over the head as he rages against the machine, hammering his point home with numerous, repetitious references to such evil agents of the corporate empire as Safeway, Walmart, Starbucks and of course, Monsanto.

nymonsanto What makes the greatest rock and roll protest songs – Stephen Stills’ “For What It’s Worth” or even Young’s own “Ohio” for example – the timeless classics they have become, has always been the masterful way they emphasize a certain subtlety over bluster. Songs like “A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee Shop” and the title track here on the other hand, tend to trivialize and even dilute the message with an irritating tone that comes off every bit as preachy as anything Dylan recorded during his “Born Again” years.

The good news here though, is that The Monsanto Years rocks far more often than not, and as a backing band, Promise Of The Real bring that same ferocious intensity out of Neil and Old Black as all of his best bands have historically done from Crazy Horse to Pearl Jam. Lukas Nelson’s cleaner guitar sound in particular proves an effective foil to Young’s comparatively more cacophonous shredding. The guitar exchanges between them on songs like “Big Box” occasionally recall the legendary shoot-outs between Young and Stephen Stills.

Not surprisingly though, the two best songs here, the twangy rocker “If I Don’t Know” and the lovely, pastoral “Wolf Moon” are also the ones where he resists name-checking all the corporate bad guys.

Grade: B-

*Excerpted from an article first published at Blogcritics.

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