Canadian singer/songwriter Neil Young rose to fame with Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and a steady stream of solo projects over the last 50+ years. Young has received several Grammys and Juno awards and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice: once in 1995 as Neil Young, and again in 1997 as a member of Buffalo Springfield.
The folk-rock troubadour's most recent release, The Visitor, is B.T.R.C.'s Record of the Month for January's Singer-Songwriter category. Throughout Young's career, we have seen him collaborate often. Sometimes, in a group like CSN&Y, sometimes with his backing band, Crazy Horse. His co-credited albums with the backing band total 11 studio albums and numerous "Live" albums.
On The Visitor, Young teams up for the second time with the backing band Promise of the Real. POTR is Lukas Nelson's (Son of Willie Nelson) band. In August of 2017, they released their self titled debut (a B.T.R.C. favorite from last year), Lukas Nelson and The Promise of the Real. Nelson has had a long friendship with Young and in 2015, they released a co-credited album entitled The Monsanto Years.
On this most recent collaboration, we still see a politically-charged Neil Young questioning the current state of affairs in the world. He seems to strike lyrically with a softer hand, however, and we think it actually strengthens the record a bit. Maybe POTR played a part in this, but they definitely had a hand in the great music. The album is fairly diverse, from folk to singer-songwriter rock. If you're already a Neil Young fan, there is plenty to like on this record.
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Neil Young's latest LP with heartland-rock band Promise of the Real opens with "Already Great," where the guitars cut like rusty plows and anti-Trump invective becomes bitter tribute: "You're the promise land/The helping hand/No wall. No hate. No fascist U.S.A." That sense of cranky rage and ageless idealism are all over The Visitor. On the somber folk shuffle "Almost Always," he complains about "livin' with a game show host," while the forcefully hard-grooving "Fly By Night Deal" is sung (partly) in the voice of a pipeline foreman bringing wreckage to the wilderness. Young detours into blues on "Diggin' a Whole" and absurdist eccentricity on the eight-minute "Carnival," spinning a surreal circus allegory over a south-of-the-border saunter. Even weirder is "Children of Destiny," a ragefully didactic sing-along recorded with a 56-piece orchestra that sounds like a grunge anthem lost in the soundtrack to a Disney musical. But the album ends on well-worn ground with the folk prayer "Forever," the kind of song he's been writing for decades, stretching into 10 minutes of frayed hope for his fellow man. "Earth is like a church without a preacher/The people have to pray for themselves," he sings, true to a messy vision of democracy that remains as endearing as ever."
What critics are saying about The Visitor
Jon Dolan for Rolling Stone, "Review: Neil Young Channels More Cranky Rage, Ageless Idealism With Promise of the Real"
"Rage takes many forms in the new songs of Neil Young. If, by chance, you don't connect with the relatively even-tempered opening track "Already Great," which celebrates the United States as "the promised land" and "the helping hand," perhaps something in the key of caustic sarcasm suits you better? That would be track two, and the bone-rattling, inspired-by-Funkadelic groove "Fly By Night Deal." On it, Young alternates between the role of a pipeline project manager barking orders like "Move those animals out of here" and an outraged citizen who screams "No more" and laments "no one sees what's getting lost."
Sometimes the 72-year-old Young is tender and philosophical about the developments that anger him. Consider "Almost Always." One minute he's musing allegorically about birds; the next he's castigating the sitting U.S. president as a "game show host who has to brag and has to boast about tearing down the things that I hold dear."
But the work as a whole addresses itself more broadly, to the rifts and resentments and underlying conditions that gave rise to this president; its tense dissonances and vitriolic refrains reflect the sordid freak-show surreality of this moment in history. It's not any kind of definitive statement on the age of Trump — more like a quick scan across a ravaged landscape, made by someone with a shaky hand who can't quite believe what he sees.
Tom Moon for NPR, "Review: Neil Young & Promise Of The Real, The Visitor"