Neil Young - Peace Trail album review: Cantankerous Young takes the lesser road travelled
Neil Young may have blown out the candles on his 72nd birthday cake last November 12th, but the old dog shows no sign of easing up on his busy schedule.
Peace Trail is Young’s second album of 2016, following on from Earth, his “live” set with current backing band Promise of the Real, which also featured the sounds of nature in all its glory to reflect the album’s environmental theme.
If Earth had its moments, Peace Trail is more parsimonious with its pleasures though Young doesn’t hold back on his views about the mess we are making of the world – and this was recorded before you-know-who’s twisted surprise.
Giving his band some time off, Young went into the studio with veteran drummer Jim Keltner and bassist Paul Bushnell, and the word was that the music would be mainly acoustic. That would be no hardship for longtime Young fans, who dream of another Harvest or suchlike.
Well, they can dream on. There is certainly lots of acoustic guitar, but Peace Trail is more akin to a demo than a finished album (the title track and one or two others aside). Even allowing for Young’s oddball nature, this is a clunkish collection of bits and scraps and half-worked-out ideas, the kind of stuff you would expect after a day or two working on unfamiliar material. Certainly Keltner seems to be following his nose as he tries to keep up with the boss.
Of course, being Neil Young, even a near-shambles has an endearing character and fascination; you can’t fault his enthusiasm. His stand against pipelines running through Native American lands (Indian Givers) and the targeting of the Other (Terrorist Suicide Hanglider) are heartfelt, while the admissions in Can’t Stop Working betray a deep sadness and sense of guilt.
The two best tracks by some distance are the title number, with Young’s wistful voice counterpointed by signature electric guitar, and Show Me, a bluesy riff on activism that is just the right side of understated. Suffice it to say, Peace Trail is more a quirky footnote than a chapter in a mighty career.