The 34th album from Crazy Horse, Americana, is the campfire version of what Neil Young, Frank “Poncho” Sampedro, Billy Talbot, and Ralph Molina do best – make a mighty noise.
Somebody who knows where to hang a microphone put the band in a room, playing loud, and went for first takes.
Young and the Horse are primarily a live band that makes records, so this is a tried and true formula that results in raw albums that contain an elusive swing and grit. Get simple songs and use the structure for jamming; and here they use basic material: traditional American folk songs from the 19th and early 20th century.
These songs have been twisted and bent to suit the band’s over-driven wanderings. Some of the lyrics will be recognizable from elementary school sing-alongs, but otherwise there’s no resemblance to the originals. The songbook has been shuffled up and thrown into the campfire. It’s good dirty fun to hear how Young and the Horse have altered the context to make shining slabs of raunch to familiar themes.
Clementine is a dark, pounding dirge unrecognizable except for the lyrics; likewise High Flying Bird and Jesus Chariot. The band benefits by exploiting chorus lyrics while four-on-the- floor pounding and six-string overdrive dominate.
Fractured soloing veers in and out but the music is focused and loose in the patented Horse style.
Because the concept of the album is a slight tangent, the possibility for weirdness is high. Gallows Pole and Get a Job stick out of the playlist awkwardly, but are redeemed by the subdued reading of Wayfaring Stranger and God Save the Queen – the latter maybe a nod to Young’s Canadian school day assemblies.
Americana is an offbeat recording that’s fun while staying gritty and dark – it’s interpretive sludge.
–– Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon-based musician and longtime music critic for The Morning Star.