At one point, the working title for the new Neil Young and Crazy Horse album was Pink Moon. It describes the eleven days the band spent in April, hunkered down in a studio at an elevation of 9,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains, recording their first new record in seven years. (Oxygen tanks were involved.)
But Colorado, the title Young eventually settled on, is more fitting for the record. It encompasses the ragged earthiness of Crazy Horse that dates back to 1968, when Young first jammed with the then-known Rockets at the Whisky a Go Go. More than 50 years later, the fuzzed-out riffs and mellow harmonies are still intact, the lyrics just as heartfelt.
Young’s signature searing harmonica opens the album (“Think of Me”) as he sings about oceans and prairies. Pushing 74 years old, he’s lost several close friends and bandmates in his life — the recent passing of his longtime manager Elliot Roberts has been particularly devastating — and on “Olden Days,” he faces tragedy with the same honesty he did on Tonight’s the Night. “Where did all the people go? Why did they fade away?” he whimpers over searing reverb. “They meant so much to me and now I know/That they’re here to stay in my heart.”
The absence of guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro — the heart and soul of the Horse — is highly noticeable. Since 1975’s Zuma, Sampedro has backed Young’s guitar with blistering riffs that only Lukas Nelson of Promise of the Real has been close to emulating. But Nils Lofgren, who has played with Young sporadically since 1970, fills that void. The sprightly autumnal piano chords on “Eternity” echo “Till the Morning Comes” from After the Gold Rush, a record an 18-year-old Lofgren learned how to play keyboards for.
Young has been playing several of Colorado’s tracks on the road for the past year, and it’s satisfying to see them come together in such a seamless fashion. The gentle “Green and Blue” flows into the ethereal “Milky Way,” while the band sings in unison for the anthemic “Rainbow of Colors” as Ralph Molina’s drums follow along. The album’s closer “I Do” provides the gorgeous subtlety that “Through My Sails” does on Zuma, a digestif to the madness.
In 2019, Young is one of the few rockers of his generation who’s still making music on the same meandering, uncompromising terms he staked out in his youth. “You might say I’m an old white guy,” he proposes on the eco-friendly “She Showed Me Love.” He is, and we do, and he’s working that old-white-guy magic all over this record.