Prairie Wind – Neil Young
Reprise Records 49494-2
Much of the time, Neil Young’s Prairie Wind becomes the worthwhile conclusion to the trilogy that began with Harvest and was followed two decades later by Harvest Moon. Working once again with Stray Gators Ben Keith and Spooner Oldham plus others sympathetic to Young’s laidback mix of country, folk and rock, the Sound remains the same with some numbers even giving a musical nod to the past as well; “This Old Guitar” being an extension of “Unknown Legend.” Because of the line that runs through the three records, there’s a certain elegance to the material, which moves with the graceful flow of the wheat fields that Young mentions in the title track.
Ultimately, this being a song-oriented release makes it a relief over the narrative of Greendale. And typical of Young’s penchant for doing the opposite of what’s expected, the man who showed up at a few Rock For Change stops last October hasn’t made a loud angry indictment of what’s become of the land he loves since the election. Reading through the imagery of other songs reveals his sentiments while he becomes more direct for a verse on “No Wonder.”
Still, there are other moments when it seems as if Young becomes the character in “The Painter,” and gets lost in the multitude of ideas running through his gifted brain. Opening the album with that song makes for a beautiful encapsulation of Young’s music career, possibly appropriate for any artist of merit.
The ideas that he pulls from the air and dreams on “Prairie Wind” should be familiar wistfulness for the idealized times of the past, another lighthearted look at Elvis Presley, indignation at injustice and odes of love. Add to this mix sentimental thoughts of his deceased father and a reminder of his own mortality, thanks to an aneurysm that was taken care of in surgery prior to recording this, and you have a Neil Young album that’s full of compassion and offers all the warmth of a fireplace in action on a chilly winter night. As comfortable as that can be it’s occasionally muddled in reflections and jump cuts in focus.
While he began the album on a high note, Young ends it the same way. The album’s final track, “When God Made Me,” presents itself as what Young does best, offering a simple format that resonates long after it fades out. With the Fisk University Jubilee Choir backing him, he creates humanity’s international anthem that extends beyond color, race, sex and religion while knocking down neo-con bred wars, theocracy-led hatred and reminding all of us what it means to have God on Our Side.