3/5 Approaching the new album by Neil Young and his heroically faithful backing band (who’ve played with him on and off for more than 40 years) is a little like entertaining a much-loved elderly relative: you’re thrilled to see them, but are anxious that their more testing character traits (unpredictability included) might cause a frustrated outburst, resulting in you giving up on them altogether.
Such is the nature of Young and CH’s latter-day collaborative output. This is their first LP together since 2003’s lumpy Greendale, which even devout fans must have found challenging. Given his prolificacy, it’s no surprise that Young sometimes wanders off course, but then he’ll throw down a record like 2011’s terrific Le Noise, and all is forgiven.
Americana is far removed from that batch of atmospheric and experimental grooves. It’s rather a set of rocked-up reimaginings of country/folk traditionals and modern standards, including ‘This Land Is Your Land’, ‘Tom Dooley’ and ‘She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain’. Anyone expecting filthy, squalling feedback and gnarly, righteous workouts will feel short-changed – save for low-down, ravaged blues epic ‘High Flyin’ Bird’ and a remarkably Grinderman-like take on ‘Oh Susannah’.
Most puzzling are the hillbilly doo-wop of ‘Get a Job’ and a version of ‘God Save the Queen’, complete with choir. Heaven knows what possessed him to go there, but that’s the ornery elderly relative principal in action. At the age of 66, this extraordinary talent has earned the right to baffle us. Sharon O’Connell