Neil Young’s New Album, Americana, Electrifies the Folklore You Know and Love

Neil Young’s new album, his first with Crazy Horse in nine years, is a raw, heav­i­ly ampli­fied inter­pre­ta­tion of clas­sic Amer­i­can folk songs of the kind many of us learned in ele­men­tary school, like “She’ll Be Com­ing ‘Round the Moun­tain” and “Oh My Dar­ling, Clemen­tine.”

But while the gui­tar chords may be dis­tort­ed, the lyrics are not. As Young told Ter­ry Gross this week on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” he wants lis­ten­ers to hear the words as they were orig­i­nal­ly writ­ten. So, for exam­ple, he has restored the scathing protest-song ele­ments of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” And in “Clemen­tine” he sings a verse teach­ers did­n’t want inno­cent lit­tle chil­dren to hear: “How I missed her, how I missed her, how I missed my Clemen­tine. So I kissed her lit­tle sis­ter, and for­got my Clemen­tine.”

One of the best tracks on the new album is a rol­lick­ing ver­sion of “She’ll Be Com­ing ‘Round the Moun­tain.” (See the video above.) In the “Fresh Air” inter­view, Young explains the ori­gin of his arrange­ment:

I heard that song back in 1964, and I was real­ly into the groove and the melody and the fact that it was an old song with a new melody and old lyrics. And then, when I did it in 2012, I start­ed relat­ing more to the lyrics and start­ed doing more research on the lyrics. I actu­al­ly got into what the lyrics were real­ly about more than I was in 1964. I chose a few vers­es that empha­sized a cer­tain dark­ness, but they were all the orig­i­nal vers­es.

Young was first exposed to a few of the songs on Amer­i­cana when he heard Tim Rose and The Thorns play in Cana­da in 1964. He was deeply impressed by Rose’s rock­ing arrange­ment of “Oh, Susan­na” (anoth­er song on the new album). “I saw what he did to ‘Oh, Susan­na,’ and thought, wow, I could do that to a lot of these songs,” Young told Gross. “And that’s a real­ly cool thing to do to them, because it gives them a new life. Plus I have drums in my band, and the Thorns did­n’t have drums, so I knew we could real­ly rock these things.”

You can lis­ten to Young’s inter­view with Ter­ry Gross, which includes more songs from the new album, at the NPR Web site. And you can get your copy of Amer­i­cana right here.

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