Tuesday, July 31, 2012


As usual, Neil Young has polarized fans, and confused the casual listener with his latest release, Americana.  It's a disc of mainly old folk standards, done up in Crazy Horse arrangements.  We're talking Oh Susannah, Clementine and This Land Is Your Land, with that plodding Horse groove, and a few A-minor chords thrown in to make it menacing.  I gave it a thumbs up when it first arrived, as I found it an enjoyable listen, Young putting the darkness back in these songs which have lost some of their power from decades of over-familiarity.  And, it's better than having him write some weak stuff, as has happened in the past.

And now, you can have an enjoyable viewing too.  Young has embraced the Blu-ray like no other artist, ever since he discovered a very high-end audio system for it.  He actually prefers it even over good ol' vinyl, quite the statement from him.  Of course, it also offers the visual side, and Young's always up for films to go with his music.  The trouble with that is his spotty record as a director (under the name Bernard Shakey), and his willful non-compliance to standards for film making.  In other words, he's even nuttier with a camera.  However, this time he had a pretty good idea for something to put with the songs, and actually enhances the listening experience as well.

Each song is accompanied by a different video, based on a concept that's not new, but really fits well.  Young (and no doubt others) went into the vaults to find old black and white film footage from the early 1900's.  Some of it is real-life footage, and the rest is actual feature films, which Young cut up to suit his needs.  You might have seen the Oh Susannah video making the rounds, featuring a family living in a log cabin, the father playing a banjo and the little son dancing a jig to it.  Oh ya, then Dad gives the kid, who can't be more than eight, a smoke, which junior happily puffs on.  It's riveting.  The same happens for each song, the found footage roughly matching the story in the song.  Clementine, which is really a murder ballad, shows a guy in jail getting the cuffs on, that kind of thing.  Mostly, it's this rare and unvarnished footage that keeps your attention.

A lot of it is bizarre.  In the bonus material, Young (or staff) discovered an old film of a professional knife-thrower from perhaps the 30's, and we see her using her own very small girls as the targets in her act, missing them by inches or less with each throw.  Watching the wee girls smiling, giggling, and staying perfectly still is chilling.  Others use stock footage to illustrate the tune, such as coronation of Queen Elizabeth in the take of God Save The Queen, natch.  With the awesome sound, and the cool old movies, Young's given us a good reason to go Blu-ray over conventional CD.

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