Summary: An underwhelming addition to Young's legacy.
Listen To: 'Jesus' Chariot (She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain)'; 'Wayfarin' Stranger'; 'God Save The Queen'
Avoid: 'Oh Susannah'; 'Tom Dula'; 'Get A Job'
Get It: Here
With this being the 34th studio effort by Neil Young, you tend to go into listening to this with a fairly good idea of what to expect. And as the album consists of covers you would be forgiven for assuming that you know what's coming.
But that's not the way Young and Crazy Horse have done this album. Young, before the album's release, told 'American Songwriter' that "every one of these songs have verses that have been ignored...I moved them away from that gentler interpretation. With new melodies and arrangements, we could use the folk process to invoke the original meanings".
Young's interpretation of the songs on 'Americana' keep the audience guessing with its experimental folk-grunge style and use of lost lyrics that make the songs so different that they are incomparable to the best-known versions.
One such cover is the second track on the album, 'Clementine'. The song is a version of 'Oh My Darling, Clementine' but it lacks the trademark chorus melody that hooks listeners. Young makes the song his own by including verses omitted from many other versions, drastically changing the arrangement and the chrous and by stretching it out to approximately six minutes in length. And due to these changes, it becomes overwhelmingly mediocre.
It is Young's determination to make these songs his own that proves to be the downfall of this album. Although it is good that Young is attempting to do the songs his way, the songs are a fundamental part of American history and the original versions are so deeply engraved into the minds of listeners that these songs are not easy to accept. This isn't helped by the fact that, although the musicianship is of high quality, it is hard to shake the feeling that this entire album was recorded in one take.
Another downfall is that Young stretches out some of the songs a bit too far. With his reinvention of the songs into his own style, the songs sadly seem to drag on a bit too long and begin to all meld into one never-ending track. This isn't helped by the jam-like vibe that the album gives off, due in no part to the introduction to opening track 'Oh Susannah'.
The final fault with this album is that it is impossible to find a point or purpose for the song selection. There seems to be no consistency between songs; almost as if Young is spontaneously bursting into song and Crazy Horse are simply following his lead. And no matter how hard we try, we just cannot wrap our heads around why Young selected 'God Save Our Queen' to feature on an album that
Despite the album seeming like an endless jam session, a few nuggets of gold can be found in amongst the waves of messy sound. These are all located towards the end of the album.
'Jesus' Chariot' is possibly the finest track on the album, featuring a phenomenal vocal performance by Young and an astounding arrangement with a colossal sound that breathes new life into one of the best known songs of all time. It's place on the album (after filler track 'High Flyin' Bird') helps to emphasise the brilliance of the track.
'Wayfarin' Stranger' features some fantastic guitar work and amazing vocal delivery by Young. Although it slows down the pace of the album after 'Jesus' Chariot' and 'This Land Is Your Land', it does so in a brilliant way that stays true to the original sentiment of the song and also builds for the album's closer.
'God Save Our Queen' is an odd choice of a song to include on this album, one that we cannot logically explain or justify. But it provides the perfect close to the album with beautiful harmonies and driving drums that allow the song to stand out and close the album with a wondrous crescendo.
Yet despite these golden moments there is something missing: a purpose. And this lack of purpose plagues the album from start to finish. It is not a bad album musically; the instrumentation is exceptional. But the feeling that it was a one take recording, the removal of several key elements and melodies in tracks and the way that the whole thing blends together makes it feel like a pointless, throwaway album by a pub band. This one is only for hardcore fans. Or those eager to waste money.