Neil Young - Prarie Wind
Neil experienced a brain aneurysm and stared death in the face. Released surprisingly soon afterwards, 'Prairie Wind' finds Neil looking backwards, looking inwards and doing so with a warmth and humanity. 'Prairie Wind' is an acoustic Neil album, coloured by subtle enough backing vocals in places, tasteful and effective pedal steel guitar and a gentle yet melodic rhythm section. The lyrics are strikingly simple, deliberately so perhaps because Neil surely wanted these tributes to his late father and stories for his friends and family to resist interpretation. Sometimes this approach fails, the cloying and annoyingly soppy lyrical tribute of 'This Old Guitar', which does contain some truly awful lines along the way. Mostly though, we're sailing in clear blue water and the lyrics effectively do their job. So, facing mortality? Well, 'When God Made Me' and the lovely 'Falling Off The Face Of The Earth'. Looking back at his roots, 'Prairie Wind'. 'It's a long road behind me', he sings, seemingly somewhat obviously on the albums opening cut, yet 'The Painter', with its restrained musical backing perfectly accompanying one of Neils warmer and most beautiful vocals for many a year, is a good way to introduce the album and its ideas. A short note, those who enjoy the noisier Neil Young and find it hard to stomach his softer records, you'll probably want to give 'Prairie Wind' a miss. It's sounds smooth, warm and inviting. It doesn't 'rock', though. Doesn't 'rock' at all apart from the superb near six minute wonder of, errr, 'No Wonder'. It's easy to imagine 'No Wonder' sitting easily in a Neil Young live set of any particular theme or style he wishes to present, bearing in mind his vast catalogue of songs. 'Far From Home' is also one of the, how can I put this, jauntier songs of the set, Neil delights with the piano, the harmonica see-saws and the songs got a groove. 'Bury me out on the prairie' sings Neil, again, looking back to his childhood and musing upon his ultimate fate.
Back to the softer, dreamier tunes. 'It's A Dream' is a poignant six a half minute tribute to his father, it would seem. Aching and lovely pedal steel, Neil reaching for his affecting falsetto, which is still there, more or less at least, forty years into his career. The Young falsetto also gets a workout during 'Falling Off The Face Of The Earth', another set of musings from Neil, yet with the simple backing, effective and addictive. I should also mention at this stage the strings that pop up here and there on the album. If you've read the reviews linking 'Prairie Wind' to the two 'Harvest' albums, this is the most obvious musical link for me. Otherwise the tunes on this album and their content don't have a tremendous amount in common with 'Harvest', really. Lyrically 'Prairie Wind' certainly weaves a particular and focused picture, for example. Well, the Elvis tribute 'He Was The King' is corny I suppose, but funny with it and seems to be a heartfelt tribute. The closing 'When God Made Me' is a series of lyrical questions without answers. With gospel backing vocals, appropriately. The vocals are mournful, the piano beautifully picking out an easy melody. Neils voice holds ultimate sway, a capitvating presence going right through the song. It's a fitting closer to a frequently lovely record, although the absence of another 'No Wonder' means ultimately 'Prairie Wind' does tend to be a little too smooth and downcast for it's own good.