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Neil Young
Chrome Dreams II
Reprise Records
www.neilyoung.com


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.

-Susan Frances

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