16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Takes me to the portals,
This review is from: Americana (Audio CD)
"Ick" was my initial reaction to "Oh Susannah", the first song on Americana and the first song from the album released with an accompanying video on YouTube. I thought Oh Susannah sounded clunky, and that Neil's voice had gotten so creaky and snarly that it verged on being ugly. But the video was kind of intriguing, especially that dancing, smoking kid. I watched and listened to it again a couple of days later and found myself liking the way the song begins, sort of like an old diesel tractor sputtering and wheezing when it's first started, then all the parts of the motor get in synch and the next thing you know you've got a chugging locomotive barreling down the track. A few more listens and I'm finding myself humming Oh Susannah as I'm walking my dog or doing the dishes and, before I know it, I'm on board.
The same thing happened when he released "Clementine." Initially I thought some parts of the song were okay, but cringed whenever Neil would go into the chorus wailing like a rusty old band saw blade. But I gave it a couple more listens and now, when Neil howls out Clem-men-ti-i-i-i-ne, I'm right there howling along with him.
And by the time I had listened to "Jesus Chariot" (She'll be Coming Around the Mountains) the third or fourth time, especially enjoying how in the accompanying video the ballroom dancers seem to jump to the rhythm of Crazy Horse, the Neil Young & Crazy Horse undertow had sucked me right in.
Americana is not about polishing and varnishing some old campfire chestnuts. Others (Bruce Springsteen?) have done a better job of reworking the folk tunes. Neil Young has simply taken the shadows of these old songs and transformed them into genuine Neil Young & Crazy Horse stomps. I have a friend who's in his mid 20's and not very familiar with Neil Young. I had him listen to this album a couple times and he was really surprised when I told him afterwards that these songs are based on old folk tunes. He said that they somehow sounded familiar but he couldn't place them, even though he knew many of the original songs.
This is not a good Neil Young album. But this is a great Neil Young & Crazy Horse album. Truthfully, I haven't really been able to get into any Neil Young album since Greendale (although megaphones do not music make), or maybe even the underrated Broken Arrow with its strikingly similar cover art to Americana. Americana works for me because of Crazy Horse who, in my opinion, are Neil's best backup band ever. Crazy Horse always seem to set Neil on the warpath and remind me why I often think of Neil Young as the master of the warpath guitar. Crazy Horse make me think of how the original Crazy Horse's people might have sounded romping and stomping up a storm around a bonfire if they had drums, guitars, and an electric bass.
I especially like the way Crazy Horse back up Neil in "Tom Dula". I'm not sure who's singing the background vocals (Billy Talbot?), but whoever it is, he's really singing his heart out as hard as Neil is. The whole band is playing as if this is their last chance to prove to the world that they've got the real thing.
And speaking of heart, this is what Americana is truly about. It's about raw, pure, beautiful and untarnished emotion. Yes it creaks and snarls and sputters, but it's also powerful and inspiring. It's not the "Twenty-four and so much more" Neil Young of forty years ago, but Neil Young in his sixties still going out in his blaze of glory.
I bought the album and have listened to it now in my truck, on my iPod, and through my vintage stereo at least half a dozen times. It turns out that the album is great for running or working out to and even better for listening to while driving down the road. As a bonus, I already know most of the words so it's easy to sing along to. Even my wife, who hasn't liked anything by Neil Young since Rust Never Sleeps, is spending a lot of time with this album.
I do have a question, however. I've searched high and low, but I have no idea what the portals are in the line "She'll take us to the portals" in Jesus' Chariot. It sounds like something almost mystical. I even think I want to go to those portals. But I also have a feeling that maybe Neil Young & Crazy Horse have already transported me there with this powerful, inspiring, and soul-rousing new album.
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Showing 1-10 of 10 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 20, 2012 9:20:15 AM PDT
Neil did an interview with Terry Gross on NPR All Songs Considered and said that the "portal" in Jesus' Chariot was the entrance to heaven in the original version of the song, which was a spiritual.
In reply to an earlier post on Jun 23, 2012 7:01:04 PM PDT
I also wonder whether the 'big red rooster' in a previous verse could originally have been symbolic of thr devil. Since the song is described as deriving from a 'Negro spiritual', I figured it could be either that or a reference to pre-Christian/voodoo practices.
In reply to an earlier post on Jun 23, 2012 7:18:19 PM PDT
On NPR's All Songs Considered he had some very interesting things to say about "Jesus' Chariot." The "she" in "she'll be comin' round the mountain" isn't a woman, but rather the chariot of Jesus coming to (possibly) initiate the Rapture. The line "she'll take us to the portal" is probably a reference to the portal of Heaven. And the rooster? Neil himself left it open to interpretation, so your guess is as good as his. Again, this isn't a campfire ditty, this is deep, dark stuff. Tonight's the night, indeed.
In reply to an earlier post on Jun 23, 2012 8:11:05 PM PDT
Roland Goetz says:
Interesting comments. I like the association of a portal with the gates of St. Peter. The only thing that throws me off is that it's plural ("She'll take us to the portals"), indicating that there's more than one. Maybe, as a "Negro Spiritual", this was a sideways reference to segregation, with Heaven's main gate reserved for the Whites and the portals reserved for the Blacks? But I prefer the idea that the portals are personal wormholes to heaven that anyone can have access to without fighting the mobs lined up in front of the pearly gates.
In reply to an earlier post on Jun 23, 2012 8:36:29 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 23, 2012 8:38:29 PM PDT
Roland Goetz says:
This song does take on a different twist. When I sang this song as a kid, I'd imagine Ma Kettle coming around the mountain in her creaky wagon while Pa and the kids would kill the old red rooster for the soup pot. I've heard of African rituals where roosters and other animals were killed at a crossroad to ward off evil or bring luck. And sacrificing roosters (as well as other animals) to release the "life force" or make an offering to whatever god was popular at the time. I've never heard of a red rooster being associated with the devil, but it's plausible and I certainly got a shiver down my spine when I read Mr. Wookiee's comment.
In reply to an earlier post on Jun 24, 2012 8:31:31 PM PDT
The liner notes with the CD mention this; hence the title the song is given here.
In reply to an earlier post on Jun 24, 2012 8:33:47 PM PDT
Roland, don't put too much stock in my theories. I have so many that they can't all be true.
Posted on Jul 7, 2012 2:51:14 AM PDT
Dusty Rhodes says:
Isn't it them pearly gates, plural? Jesus likely picked up the Buddhist teaching of bardos; a maze though smoke and light, demons and monsters, and hidden gates, portals and doors. It must be navigated after death, for a good rebirth. Music surely helps. Thanks Neil and CH.
Posted on Oct 23, 2012 5:23:28 PM PDT
Johnnie LeMaster says:
Nicely put, written, and considered. Funny how so much that's initially dismissed lodges itself in our heads whether we're running, working out, listening on our ipod or vintage stereo, or driving down the road. The sign of a good album is when the reviews are equally split between 'amazing' and 'self-indulgent crap.' Here's to Neil and his self-indulgent self. And thanks for a good review.
In reply to an earlier post on Oct 23, 2012 9:54:33 PM PDT
Dusty Rhodes says:
Only an icon can do what Neil does, and only Neil is able to do it. Just discovered Neil, A Day In the Life, Glastonbury 2009. He literally shreds his guitar! Love him. Also a video with Sir Paul, who shreds Neil's guitar!
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