Neil Young & Crazy Horse
The stories adults tell children are often sanitized. In the original version (spoiler alert!), Little Red Riding Hood gets eaten by the big, bad wolf after being tricked into cannibalizing her grandmother. The jealous villain who orders Snow White’s murder isn’t her stepmother, but her mother. The same is true of the folk songs we learned as kids, many of which have origins far darker or more complex than we suspected. Few music teachers would dare let children in on the overtly socialist aspects of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” or explain that the “she” in “She’ll Be Coming ’Round the Mountain” is the chariot believers expect Jesus to be driving for the Second Coming.
For their latest, Neil Young, his erstwhile backing band Crazy Horse (teamed for the first time since 2003’s Greendale), and a tastefully deployed vocal choir are here to disabuse us of our folk-song misapprehensions. In typical flamethrowing fashion, Young and company sink their lupine teeth into the above songs (the latter titled “Jesus’ Chariot” here), along with tales of death by drowning (“Clementine”), stabbing (“Tom Dula”), hanging (“Gallows Pole”) and … well, whatever it is that gives the narrator of “Oh Susannah” his final delirious vision. A native Canadian and thus at least arguably a subject of Her Majesty, Young demonstrates his nerviness by ending an album called Americana with a mashup of “God Save the Queen” and “My Country, ’Tis of Thee.” America’s own origins are as complicated as anyone’s. –Chris Neal