It’s been too long since Neil Young has gathered his grizzled cronies in Crazy Horse for one of their fraternal freak-guitar slopfests. Americana is the first full-on Horse album since the underrated 1996 gem, Broken Arrow. Nobody skewers expectations like Young, so there’s a catch: Americana has no Neil Young songs, just folk standards like “Oh Susannah” and “Clementine.” No clever curation or Harry Smith-style crate-digging; as Young says, “They’re songs we all know from kindergarten.”
There’s an undeniable WTF factor in hearing these Cub Scout singalong ditties drowned in guitar feedback and off-key yelling. But that’s the goofball charm. The Horse beat up on “She’ll Be Coming ’Round the Mountain” (here titled “Jesus’ Chariot”) as if it’s “Like a Hurricane.” True, the doo-wop classic “Get a Job” is beyond their chops, and “This Land Is Your Land” gets spoiled with a kiddie choir. But they make the murder ballad “Tom Dula” roar like a lost cousin of “Powderfinger,” and Young sings “Wayfarin’ Stranger” with a surprisingly vulnerable high-lonesome twang. Now that he and the Horse are as far removed from Ragged Glory as Ragged Glory was from “Mr. Soul,” he’s got the right to sound weary.
Listen to ‘Americana’: