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Chrome Dreams II – Neil Young

Reprise 348220-2

Kris Kristofferson wrote it and Janis Joplin made it famous “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” I think about that line as I hear a content and contentious Neil Young sing on Chrome Dreams II, the pseudo-sequel to the never-released 1976 album. Subconsciously, he took that line from “Me & Bobby McGee” to heart. In an American political climate where even the slightest disagreement or criticism of the president is considered a seditious act and anyone within the entertainment world is “robbed” of their citizenship when it comes to commenting on government policy, the idea of an entire album that’s nothing less than a call to arms is enough to send conservative drumbeaters into apoplectic fit. Of course, Young’s Living With War received its share of barbs, but nothing in comparison to what it would have happened several years ago when there were only a few hundred rather than several thousand American soldiers dead and the word quagmire’ was only considered the verbiage of nutty conspiracy bloggers.

I bring up Young’s last album, a place where all the anger and frustration with the Iraq War and what America turned into coalesced into a cathartic moment, because the mood on Chrome Dreams II is much more gentle; as if he got those thoughts out of his system, moved on and found a degree of peace amidst the turmoil. Even with visions of rising seas popping into his head on “CDII,” he leaves the worrying for another day. His inspiration of making it through this world can be found among those that he loves (“The Believer”), being around nature and the fervent belief that better things will happen in the future. It’s through these things he senses a Higher Power that’s blessed him with such surroundings (“Boxcar”). On “Beautiful Bluebird," the melancholy of a lost love briefly seeps through yet it is overpowered by the fascinating creation flying before him.

Rather than highlighting one element of Young's musical personality feedback-drenched rock or reflective acoustic — these tunes move among just about all of Young’s interests. Due to his sonic history this allows the mix of country, folk and rock to flow together easier than expected. While it’s missing any Trans-like electronic forays, “Shining Light” certainly descends from 1950s balladry that’s as close to his Shocking Pinks period as some may care to get. In that same manner you can hear echoes of “Love and Only Love” off Ragged Glory in the surging train rhythm on “Spirit Road” and the Big Dumb Delicious Groove from “Piece of Crap” crops up on “Dirty Old Man.” Like other aspects of the album, the latter song initially sounds like a toss off until you reach the aching depth of its main character.

Of course, the main treat is the inclusion of an epic 18-minute “Ordinary People,” the “Dark Star” of sorts to Young’s longtime fans. Recorded during the This Note’s For You sessions with the Bluenotes, it reached mythical status due it not being released and only receiving the rare performance with that backing band or solo. Over the past two decades live versions have had to satisfy the thirst for Young’s lengthy screed of an America that’s separated by the status of one’s bank account. Like “The Way” and its simple melody reinforced by The Young People’s Chorus of New York City, it offers a ray of hope for the future. In this case it rests upon the shoulders of the working class people. The same people who can vote in elections, with their wallets, by their viewing habits.

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