Chrome Dreams II
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Chrome Dreams II
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''One of the most influential and idiosyncratic singer/songwriters of his generation.'' -All Music Guide. Enjoying one of the most prolific periods of his phenomenally prolific career, Neil Young (sans Crazy Horse) delivers Chrome Dreams II. Hard but shiny, acoustic but also electric, Chrome Dreams II continues the new millennium resurgence in popularity for one of the greatest singer/songwriters in rock history.
What we have here is easily Mr. Young's finest work in years, one that erases the memory of his well-intentioned but anemic 2006 protest album, Living with War. Recorded using analog gear, with Crazy Horse drummer Ralph Molina, pedal steel guitarist Ben Keith, and Rick Rosas on bass, CD2 manages to sound both home-grown and experimental. It's the work of an artist still not afraid to take chances, who also knows what his strengths are and doesn't stray too far from them. Trainspotters will note that three of the ten songs were written but never released before, while we all might puzzle over the title. Chrome Dreams is the name of an unreleased album from 1977. So, why is this Chrome Dreams II? Is it a similar case to 1992's Harvest Moon, when Young went back to the virtual land of his 1972 hit Harvest to write more material in that vein? As the original was reportedly lost in a fire, we may never know. Chrome Dreams II offers up gorgeous, plaintive laments and country-tinged numbers sung in that achy breaky, heart-on-sleeve voice of Young's, as well as ragged barn-storming rockers delivered with a growl. There's even an 18-minute dirge that excitedly mixes R&B back-up horns with searing electric guitar leads! Wow. --Mike McGonigal
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Retaining so many trusty sidekicks and having worked with so many other musicians, Young has a goldmine of players to choose from. Here he is backed by an interesting cross section of long-time pals: guitarist, keyboardist, and steel guitar extraordinaire Ben Keith; bassist Rick Rosas; and Crazy Horse drummer Ralph Molina. The crossing of his two primary rhythm sections is interesting. Horse fans may miss bassist Billy Talbot, and Horse detractors will long for drummer Chad Cromwell, but the trio has noticeable chemistry, and it is hard to argue with the results. Young himself of course contributes mightily on a multitude of instruments.
Unlike most of Young's recent work, this is a collection of songs in the most basic sense rather than a thematic album, meaning that it is best discussed track-by-track.
"Beautiful Bluebird" is indeed beautiful. Any song, much less album, opening with Young's unmistakable harmonica gets my approval. This is country rock as only he can do it. Apparently an Old Ways outtake but clearly re-recorded, fans will be glad this finally found a place. Much the same can be said of "Boxcar," also re-recorded and seemingly originating in the late 1980s. The two songs are a solid combination and get Chrome off to an excellent, if somewhat misleading, start.
"Ordinary" was previously one of Young's most legendary unreleased songs. Kept off 1988's This Note's For You for some insane reason but heard on its tour, it was long overdue. It is easy to see why Young did not re-record it; some slight 1980s' production values and a few synthesizer fills aside, it is timeless and indeed near-perfect. This means that it sounds somewhat out of place, especially after the acoustic cuts, but it is so great that we hardly notice, much less care. The 18-minute epic is not only one of Young's best songs but simply one of the best songs ever. Musically, it heavily features the horn section that makes This so distinctive - a point of contention there but used sublimely here. Young's electric guitar also smashes and thrashes as only it can, while the thundering Rosas/Cromwell rhythms truly thrill. Those who prefer them to the Crazy Horse rhythm section will certainly have new ammunition. The non-synthesizer keyboards are also excellent. Lyrically, this is one of Young's most complex and ambiguous songs - not to mention one of the most meaningful, thought-provoking, and poetically impressive. One might expect a working-class salute because of Young's liberal reputation and the title, but it is far otherwise. Young plays with the title phrase, eliciting every possible meaning and describing a moral murk that would need a dissertation to fully analyze and appreciate. His vocal is also very strong, with some of his best phrasing.
This near-unbeatable trio sets an extremely high standard that the rest cannot match, which is disappointing when we realize it means that the newer songs are simply not as good. Even so, none are bad, and the whole somehow holds together quite well. "Shining Light" may be the closest Young has come to gospel. Though not specifically religious, it may be an example of the newfound spirituality he has described since his well-publicized aneurysm. The music is generic rock gospel, and the words would seem asinine on paper, but Young's ever-inimitable vocal makes the song majestically emotional. The cut would have been forgettable if done by nearly anyone else, but he makes it worthwhile.
A pleasant throwaway, "The Believer" has similar subject matter but seems more focused on earthly love. Molina's drumming is the surprising highlight; for all his detractors, his simple but steady beat fits perfectly and would have been very hard for Cromwell - or indeed anyone - to top.
"Spirit Road" is unfortunately the only Chrome song Young has consistently performed live. This is somewhat puzzling in that it is not one of the best, though quite enjoyable. The words are interesting and continue the theme, and the vocal has an intriguing way of staying just ahead of the beat as in Bob Dylan's "Tangled up in Blue." Few singers could pull off such tricky phrasing, but Young does it with aplomb.
As the title implies, "Dirty Old Man" is one of Young's joke songs in the vein of "Welfare Mothers" or "Old King." Some have always disliked these, but those able to appreciate them as light-hearted fun will like it, especially as this may be his funniest. It is also a nice pace change.
"Ever After" is another tremendous highlight. A gorgeous acoustic work, it is a minor masterpiece proving that Young can still write very good songs. The lyrics are excellent and deliciously idiosyncratic, the steel guitar is transcendent, and the vocal is tremendously emotional.
"No Hidden Path" is one of Young's signature electric guitar showcases, featuring killer lengthy solos between refrains. Ragged Glory fans will rejoice.
"The Way" is the biggest surprise. It begins with Young's always lovely piano, which soon gives way to a children's choir that sings most of the song with him. I am no fan of child singers, but they add an innocent sweetness that is highly endearing and blend surprisingly well with Young's voice. This notably shows that Young is willing to take risks even after so many years, and it works. His own vocal is soothingly tender, and the lyrics are quietly thoughtful.
One should certainly have Young's best albums first, but Chrome is in his second tier - i.e., better than most artists' best. Fans should not hesitate to get it.
Beautiful Bluebird, Boxcar, No Hidden Path, and obviously Ordinary People; are the highlights. And I mean HIGHLIGHTS- some of Neal's alltime best!! This is a five star effort no doubt.
Owning all his CDs, rarities and even Chrome Dreams I (hard to get) I was ecstatic to hear that this was in release.
I've heard Ordinary People many times before and Boxcar on Times Square so these aren't new to me. First of all, I think Ordinary People is a fantastic song and the 18 minutes moves along at a steady pace that sews together a fabric of different people and lifestyles in our society. Amazing.
Other great songs on this CD are "No Hidden Path" , "Beautiful Bluebird" "Spirit Road" and "Dirty Old Man". "The Way" is a beautiful (albeit different) song and reminds me of "Lost In Space" from Hawks and Doves with the children chorus.
I do hear alot of Stars and Bars in this album, too, which is way underrated.
Seeing Neil in concert November 21st in Toronto at Massey Hall (another great great album!!) and cannot wait. I can't wait to see his hometown Canadians response to him.
Keep going, Neil. You've got a lot to still contribute. Bring on the boxset!
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