Mother Earth is more than Neil Young’s title heroine here; she is an instrument too. Recorded live last year with his current, youngblood combo, the 13 songs – all pulled from the ecology section of Young’s library – are overdubbed with choral gleam, extra guitar drama and noisy approval by a peanut gallery of livestock, turkeys, insects and crows. There is also rolling thunder and hard rain, hinting at the payback to come. As Young sings in “Mother Earth (Natural Anthem)” from 1990’s Ragged Glory, “How long can you give and not receive?”
Earth stops at songs as far back as 1970’s “After the Gold Rush” and “Vampire Blues” from 1974’s On the Beach. But these performances are more urgent, in point and force, than Young’s 2015 studio manifesto, The Monsanto Years. In the jubilantly rough, electric stretches of “Hippie Dream” and “Big Box,” it’s like you’re getting 1991’s live Weld cut at Farm Aid with the last-stand fervor of Freedom. The applauding ducks and geese after the half-hour freakout “Love and Only Love” are Young’s reminder that nature itself is music – and silence is not an option.