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Living With War – Neil Young

Reprise Records 44335-2

With presidential poll numbers dropping into the freezing temps and more of the general public realizing that it ain’t democracy if your government acts more like Orwell’s 1984 than the Land of the Free, Neil Young, a man with bigger balls and greater creative fertility and ambitions than any one of us can hope for in our lifetime, steps in to vent the frustration and anger that’s been growing on a daily basis for the past three years.

Written and recorded in two weeks Living With War sounds hastily put together, like a stream of conscious musical diary entry that’s scribbled down quickly in order to get all the thoughts down. Oh, it’s not perfect, and for this Crazy Horse fan, how I wish that the members would have been around, but everything is trumped by the passion of the words, music and delivery.

Young calls this a “metal folk protest” that takes its inspiration from Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs, and his distinctive electric playing here is the antithesis of the melancholy acoustic ruminations heard on last year’s Prairie Wind. He takes that to the nth degree by copping the musical theme of Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” on “Roger and Out,” which incorporates his oft-used hippie ideal to comment on the past in order to reflect on the present.

The core of the musical unit includes Rick Rosas on bass and Chad Cromwell on drums, but the unexpected stars turn out to be trumpet player Tommy Bray whose contributions become a clarion call for ACTION (!) as well as the 100-member choir that doubles Young's vocals on a number of the album’s nine tracks.

While his artistic side peaks out throughout, Young doesn’t mince words on much of Living With War. The first lines on the first song of the album go, “Won’t need no shadow man/Runnin’ the government.” It maintains the indignation at those behind the scenes causing everyday men/women/dads/moms/brothers/sisters/children being sent overseas to fight for a Strawman of reasons given to them and their loved ones.

The situation in Iraq, and its effect on those in uniform trying to stay alive there and those living in less dangerous situations here, permeates the lyrical landscape on “Shock and Awe,” “Families” and “Flags of Freedom” while the thoughts of oil dependence on “The Restless Consumer” are a reminder that we’re not just victims but part of the problem and solution. In that same vein of finding answers to current problems, Young yearns for and sees hope in a better future on “Looking For A Leader.”

But prior to making matters right again, bad deeds mustn’t go unpunished. If you don’t get a lump in your throat and your heart beats a little faster out of anger while listening to “Let’s Impeach the President,” an anthem and real-time sampling of lies and flip-flops that culminate in being more dastardly than a fib about a blow job, then not only are you not with Us but you’re a fan of whatever it takes to subjugate the kind of democracy that served this land from sea to shining sea so very well. The choir reminds us of the grace and graciousness that made the United States the envy for much of the world by taking a solo turn on “America the Beautiful” to close Living With War. Let freedom ring.

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