With an album title like Chrome Dreams II, you're probably
asking yourself "When was Chrome Dreams I released?"
It wasn't. Neil Young's current album is the sequel to
his life after he was diagnosed with a potentially deadly brain
aneurysm in 2005. Hypothetically, Chrome Dreams part one
encompasses all of his material as a solo artist from his 1969
self-titled album to his 2006 CD/DVD Living With War and
from his bands like Buffalo Springfield and Crosby,
Stills, Nash & Young. Chrome Dreams II shows Young's
renewed appreciation for life afterwards. He still has a rugged,
bronco-stead attitude when it comes to corruption and politics
which people have come to admire about him, but he also shows
a spiritual side to himself on this album with gospel overtones
that refine his coarse, coppery vocal pitch.
Produced by Young and Niko Bolas, the music is vintage
Neil Young with some tracks that are reminiscent of Young's wild,
wooly rockabilly side like in his days of "Rockin' In The
Free World," and then there are some songs that sound new
and contemporary like the piano ballad "The Way" which
incorporates a children's choir on the vocal harmonies. The tracks
feature his buddy Ralph Molina from Young's former band
Crazy Horse on drums, Rich Rosa on bass, and Ben
Keith on pedal steel, lap slide and dobro. Young plays a litany
of instruments which include banjo, harmonica, grand piano, pump
organ, Hammond B-3 organ, and his assortment of electric and acoustic
guitars. What is appealing about Chrome Dreams II is that
they are all original songs when other recording artists have
done all they will and are releasing their greatest hits discs.
Chrome Dreams II begins with a bucolic country tempo on
"Beautiful Bluebird" bound by contemplative drifts sailing
the harmonica and pedal steel rolls. It has remnants of Buddy
Guy's soft country-folk strolls and John Keenan's chalky-textured
vocals. The title "Beautiful Bluebird" is a metaphor
for life as Young tells, "Beautiful Bluebird, see how she
flies/ Look like she's always going home/ If Heaven had a window
where the Sun came shinin' through/ Like a Beautiful Bluebird,
I'd come flyin' back to you." His lyrics have a stream of
consciousness flow and the lyrics show how he connects with his
surroundings and relates to them on a pure level.
The album picks up momentum with the tangy banjo pickings and
chunky drumbeats of "Boxcar." Young straddles the line
between mellowed-out folk-pop like on "Shining Light"
showing tints of the Everly Brothers' soft-pop, and anthematic
folk-rock like for "Ordinary People," "Spirit Road,"
and "Dirty Old Man" with a nostalgic roots rock vibe
similar to The Allman Brothers Band. The roving lap slide
frequencies on "Ever After" have a slow swinging back
and forth motion as the group vocal harmonies enliven the church
choir atmospherics. The album concludes with the piano aria "The
Way" which is an instrument that proves to bode well with
Young's vocals. Who knew? Young always played the guitar and harmonica
on his songs and people are used to it, but the piano really gives
his music a new vibrancy.
Chrome Dreams II strengthens Young's folk-rock foundation
and allows him to slip into some piano-winged melodies. It is
an album that his fans will adore with a few songs that a wider
audience would find appealing. Not much has changed about Young's
music since his single "Cinnamon Girl" back in 1969
became a mainstream hit, but those things that have changed about
Young have changed for the better.
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