record reviews

Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Album: “Psychedelic Pill” (Reprise)

Grade: A

Neil Young is in a nostalgic mood on “Psychedelic Pill,” a triumphant if somewhat meandering release with his band, Crazy Horse.

The opening track, the 27-minute “Driftin’ Back,” sets the tone, as a reflective Young sings about turning back the clock and revisiting his past. Sure, at nearly half an hour, it takes its time getting there. Cut the guy some slack. At 66, it takes him some time to get where he needs to be.

“Psychedelic Pill” is the latest in a series of moves by Young retracing his steps. Last month he released his memoir, “Heavy Peace,” and this summer director Jonathan Demme released “Neil Young Journeys,” a documentary in which Young revisits his Canadian childhood home.

Sure, some of the riffs on “Psychedelic Pill” have more than a passing resemblance to some of Young’s best-known songs. And maybe some of the longer ones could have used some judicious editing.

Three of the eight tracks on the double-disc release are 16 minutes or longer. The other four are 4 minutes or less.

It’s not like these extended play songs represent unprecedented territory for the craggy Young. As anyone who’s played Young’s 1969 song “Down by the River” on a bar jukebox knows, you get your money’s worth.

“Psychedelic Pill” comes 43 years after that recording and Crazy Horse sounds as good as ever, setting the mood with their signature harmonies, driving guitars and pulsating back beat.

— Scott Bauer, Associated Press

Toby Keith

Album: “Hope on the Rocks” (Show Dog-Universal)

Grade: B

Toby Keith wants you to know he’s not just a beer man. Whiskey will do in a pinch.

Perhaps expected from the album title, only two of the 10 new songs don’t reference some sort of drinking.

Most feature his favorite malt beverage in their titles or lyrics (“I Like Girls That Drink Beer,” “Cold Beer Country,” “Haven’t Had A Drink All Day” and a bonus remix of 2011’s “Beers Ago”), but whiskey gets its share of shout outs. “Daddy makes the whiskey and mama says the prayers,” Keith sings in “Scat Cat,” a song about a family of moonshiners.

The songs are full of practical drinking advice as well. “Always drink upstream from your cattle,” says an old man to a younger one in “Get Got.” “Don’t mix your whiskey with decision/Ask forgiveness not permission,” Keith sings later in the same song.

As for the music, Keith is smart enough not to mess with a winning formula. There are weeping steel guitars, omnipresent drums and an occasional fiddle. It all makes for sing-along stuff that’s sure to keep his fans happy and provide more than a few toast-worthy moments in concert.

— Rob Merrill, Associated Press


Album: “Goin’ Down Rockin’: The Last Recordings” (Saguaro Road)

Grade: A

A few years before his death in 2002, when poor health started to overtake him, Waylon Jennings recorded these dozen songs, accompanied by just his acoustic guitar and the bass of Robby Turner. Now Turner, who had played steel guitar in Jennings’ last group, the Waymore Blues Band, has fleshed out the tracks with fellow Waymore alumni such as guitarist Reggie Young and other simpatico players, creating a new last chapter that reaffirms Jennings’ greatness.

Echoes of the defiant Outlaw who helped shake up country music in the ’70s can be heard on the rocking “Never Say Die” and “If My Harley Was Runnin’,” as well as the Tony Joe White title song, an appropriately swampy duet with the Swamp Fox himself. Strip away the bravado, on numbers such as “Belle of the Ball” (originally a 1974 B-side), “The Ways of the World,” and “Wastin’ Time,” and Jennings remains a remarkably straight shooter, with performances that are among the most intimate and deeply personal of his life.

The apotheosis of this is his “I Do Believe.” Kris Kristofferson sang it in the ’90s, when he and Jennings were in the Highwaymen, but it’s really the writer’s own take on faith and religion. So when Jennings declares, “In my own way I’m a believer” — a phrase that could sum up his legacy as a stubbornly individualistic artist — it takes on a whole new power.

— Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer


Album: “Talking Book”

Grade: B

A mere seven months after the release of her “Covered” album, which included songs by Radiohead, My Chemical Romance and others, Macy Gray has taken on what some may consider an unthinkable task: revisiting one of Stevie Wonder’s most iconic records, 1972’s “Talking Book.” It’s a gutsy decision, and one that may raise a few eyebrows (as it should).

But Gray mostly delivers the collection with a twist, making over hits such as “Superstition” and “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” in her own quirky fashion.

One of the most noticeable tracks is “You and I [We Can Conquer the World],” which highlights Gray’s sweeter side, thanks to the song’s harmonies. “You Got It Bad Girl” suits Gray’s distinctive bass tone, but doesn’t show off her vocal flexibility as much as “Big Brother.” The arrangement on “Blame it on the Sun” is different from the original. Wonder’s silky vocal tone is now Gray’s raspy soulfulness, but nevertheless it maintains its nostalgia.

The gaps in between suggest no one does Stevie better than the man himself, though Gray delivers a fresh alternative. Whether it’s been writer’s block or a simple timeout from songwriting, perhaps after two cover albums Gray will return with her own material.

— Bianca Roach, Associated Press

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