Friday, August 17, 2018

Certain Songs #1295: Neil Young – “Peace Trail” | Medialoper

Album: Peace Trail
Year: 2016

Recorded at Shangri-La Studios on September 11, 2016

After putting out two Crazy Horse albums in 2012, Neil Young didn’t release any new music in 2013, but put out two albums in 2014.

The first was A Letter Home, and it was recorded with Jack White, which on paper seems great until you read the fine print: it was a bunch of covers recorded on something called the Voice-o-Graph, which was basically a phone booth sized chamber with a mic that allowed you to record directly to vinyl. The result was fun, but non-essential.

That was followed by Storytone, an album that was recorded with a live orchestra, but also hedged its bets by having a second disc that was the same group of songs, but done acoustically. The result was both non-fun and non-essential.

That could also be said for the first two albums he recorded with Promise of the Real, his latest backing band fronted by a pair of Willie Nelson’s sons, Lukas and Mikah. The Monsanto Years was a concept album about big agribusiness, a subject that would only occur to Neil Young, but even with his usual self-awareness about what he was doing it was too strident by half.

And 2015’s Earth was just a misfire. His first live album with Promise of the Real as the backing band, it focused on songs about our planet and featured only three songs from previous live albums, but it was marred by the nature and animal sounds overdubbed on every single song. I intellectually understood the concept, but hated the execution.

So I was shocked at how much I liked 2016’s Peace Trail, recorded in just four days with Jim Keltner on drums and Paul Bushnell on bass. While the knock on Peace Trail was that it was raw and unfinished, especially on the rhythm tracks, which were clearly first or second takes, that’s kinda what I like about it: Neil got the backing tracks he wanted and then overdubbed on them.

Up in the rainbow, teepee sky
No one’s looking down on you or I
That’s just a mirror in your eye
Ain’t taken my last hit yet
I know that things are different now
(I see the same old signs
But something new is growing)
Don’t think I’ll cash it in yet
Don’t think I’ll put down my last bet
(I’m gonna keep my hand in
Because something new is growing)

In the case of “Peace Trail,” the song those overdubs included an ongoing duel between his trusty electric guitar and a pump organ, as well as a plethora of overdubbed Neil backing vocals, some of which were even — naughty, naughty — auto-tuned.

I think I’ll hit the Peace Trail
I know that treasure takes its time
(I have to take good care
When something new is growing)
I think I’ll hit the Peace Trail
I think I like my chances now
(I have to take good care
When something new is growing)
I think I’ll hit the Peace Trail
I think I’ll hit the Peace Trail now
Because something new is growing

All of this adds up to yet a new sound for Neil Young: a combination of raggedy acoustic instruments combined with just a dollop of modern production techniques. Of course, I’m wasn’t quite sure what the Peace Trail was until I googled it, and I’m still not sure if he was being literal or metaphorical, but I do know this: his sparse, spare lead guitar augments the song so well, nothing else really matters.

“Peace Trail” official video

“Peace Trail” w/ POTR from the film “Paradox”

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