Neil Young & Crazy Horse (Reprise)
Neil Young rides Crazy Horse 'round the mountain with an electric guitar on his knee, singing a grunged-up version of “Oh! Susannah” to open up the can of fractured folk that is “Americana,” his first album with his favorite backing band in nearly nine years, and his rocked-up version of this old campfire standard just might have 19th-century songsmith Stephen Foster somersaulting in his grave.
That's the loosely realized concept of Young's new album: plugged-in, rowdily rearranged versions of traditional American songs from the two centuries just past, with a rousing (well, enthusiastically pounding) finale of “God Save the Queen,” a baffling closer considering the album's theme, unless one also considers that the melody of the de facto British national anthem was stolen and its lyrics rewritten as this country's early de facto national anthem under the title “America (My Country 'Tis of Thee).” But it's often hard to guess what Young is thinking.
In between, there are admirably reimagined covers of “Clementine,” a lengthy but exhilarating swing through “Tom Dula” (a Civil War-era murder ballad about a real Confederate veteran who murdered his sweetheart, later becoming a 1958 Top 40 hit for the Kingston Trio under the new title “Tom Dooley”), “Gallows Pole” (also redone by Led Zeppelin in 1970), and Woody Guthrie's end-all proletariat rallying cry, “This Land is Your Land,” complete with original, oft-misinterpreted “deleted verses.”