Review | Colorado — Neil Young and Crazy Horse
Neil and The Horse return with their most human album in years.
Colorado is a lot of firsts for Neil Young and Crazy Horse. It’s their first album together since 2012, their first to be recorded outside of California perhaps ever, and most notably their first record since 1975 without long-standing member Frank “Pancho” Sampedro. In addition to all of this, Neil has gotten divorced, bassist Billy Talbot has had a stroke, and Nils Lofgren has become a full-time member. But why does all of this matter? Because Crazy Horse is a band that is dependent on the right circumstance. One breeze too hard and the band is liable to become so spooked they have to be sent away by Young to rethink it all. The fates have put Neil and the Horse back together, and they have reckoned with their given circumstances to prove that while they may sound weary, there’s still some spark to be found.
One trope that Young and The Horse have been able to rely on over the years is spontaneity, and this album is no different. These songs sound remarkably spontaneous in their arrangements. Opener “Think of Me” is an acoustic rocker that sounds like a live first take. Young’s trademark acoustic/harmonica combo coupled with Crazy Horse’s harmonies sounds like the feeling you get when an old friend returns. The sound is nothing Young hasn’t done before, but there’s something special about it existing in such fine form in 2019. Such a spontaneous approach is welcome on songs such as “Shut It Down” and “Olden Days” where the classic Horse sound is in fine form, however, there are moments where a little more refinement could have helped, like on the obligatory over-long jam “She Showed Me Love.” On that song, the music is fine, but the lyrical content just isn’t strong enough to warrant the thirteen-minute run time.
The album features some incredibly gentle moments as well, perhaps even some of the finest ballads Young and the Horse have done since some of the atmospheric moments on Sleeps With Angels. “Green is Blue” is another Neil Young ecological ballad, and while the lyrics may be more direct than some of his previous work, the atmospheric touches on the track are more than entrancing. Vibraphone and pump organ sit comfortably next to electric guitar in a way that makes Young’s foreboding lyrics about bloated whales and polar bears floating into the abyss seem a bit more touching. By adopting a gentler approach to environmental conservation than some of his more cantankerous admonishments of late, Young is beginning to really succeed in his approach to socio-political songwriting he’s adopted as of late. There are still more than a few moments on the album where the lyrics seem to be on the weaker side, at least for Young’s standards, but then again, this is a man who’s now been writing for over fifty-five years. Young’s excitement for these songs is still evident, and for every hokey moment (like the on-the-nose flag wavin’ patriotism of “Rainbow of Colors”) there are moments of truly inspired ragged glory (like the musically and lyrically mammoth “Help Me Lose My Mind”).
Colorado is everything a Neil Young fan could want from a Neil Young and Crazy Horse album in 2019. The circumstances were right, and the music is here. There’s always a mysticism surrounding this group of musicians, and while the veil is still covering them, there are a few holes that let us see the human side of these guys more than ever this time around. They sound old, but they don’t sound like they’re giving up anytime soon. It’s human music, and in its own way, Colorado stands as a testament to human nature and determination. Long Live The Horse.