NEIL YOUNG Chrome Dreams II (2007 UK 10-track CD album - Produced by Neil Young with Niko Bolas Chrome Dreams II is a musically diverse collection on which Young is backed by Crazy Horse drummer Ralph Molina pedal steel guitarist & dobro player Ben Keith and bassist Rick Rosas)
The sequel to a late seventies album that never actually appeared (supposedly after Young played it to Carole King, who described it as "demos"), Chrome Dreams II is the latest entry in the late flowering of the increasingly mortal looking Young, very nearly seen off by illness in 2005. The following years blunt Living with War, fuelled by disgust at American foreign policy, eschewed platitudes and vague sentiments in favour of attacking specifics, and Chrome Dreams II, though less single-minded, also takes sides. Musically it is terrific too, ranging from the offhanded country-rock prettiness of eighties outtake "Beautiful Bluebird" and the elegant, faintly churchy closer "The Way" to the all out aggression of the wonderfully sleazy rocker "Dirty Old Man" ("I like to get hammered on Friday night, sometimes I cant wait, so Mondays alright"). The oft-bootlegged "Ordinary People", originally deemed too long for 1988s This Notes for You, finally gets an official release, an eighteen minute horn powered epic defending the victims of Reaganomics which still carries a contemporary resonance. But its not the only marathon number here. The grungy, hook-laden "Spirit Road" and "No Hidden Path" are just as fine, perfect examples of the turgid but irresistible riffing Young has been purveying for some forty years. With his romantic side emerging on "Shining Light" and the soulful "The Believer" it makes for a perfectly balanced set, and one which genuinely bears comparison with anything in his long back catalogue. --Steve Jelbert
Way back in the mid-70s Neil Young planned to release an album by the name of Chrome Dreams. Then it vanished from the schedules, another victim to the whims of Young and his mercurial muse. It's this very adherence to going whichever way the wind blows in his mind that makes him such a fascinating and frustrating artist. That, and the seasoned Neil-watcher's knowledge that eventually he may release the material. Hence the (humorous) title of this album: Like the original, which veered between the dreamy fireside folk of 'Will To Love' and the anguished love cry of 'Like A Hurricane', number two has something of just about every side of the man known as 'Shakey'.
He's returned to the co-production skills of Niko Bolas with whom, as the 'Volume Dealers' he made 1989's Freedom, widely regarded as his first return to form after his 80s wilderness years. Indeed, Chrome!could be his first consistently great album since the late 90s. With trusty compadres Ben Keith on steel guitar and Crazy Horse's Ralph Molina on drums, it turns out that several of the songs here have been maturing in the vaults until deemed ripe enough for the public.
Beautiful Bluebird; its mellow country intro reminding you of "Out On The Weekend" from the halcyon Harvest years, dates from the Old Ways sessions, while the centrepiece is the awesome "Ordinary People" which dates back to Freedom. A companion piece to "Crime In The City", it returns Neil to the role of modern social commentator. But at over 18 minutes it also allows him to really wring the neck of his old Gibson Les Paul. As such it's bound for a place in his 'classic' canon.
The journey from here on in is a little bumpier. Having so many sides to you can mean that unless you're a fan of every note he's recorded it can get testing. "Dirty Old Man" is a page from his Ragged Glory/Sleeps With Angels growing-old-disreputably era; "Shining Light" is one of his sugary, faux-naive falsetto confections and closer "The Way" is impassioned, though its children's chorus may be too sentimental for cynical English ears.
But that's Neil, he's never less than honest and true to his own personal vision. After Living With War's protest cries, Chrome!is an album about pure humanity. A subject he's always going to be comfortable with. From hayseed hero to angry axe god; Chrome Dreams II will warm your heart. It's all still here. --Chris Jones
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