Around Our Town...Music to My Ears
Neil Young: Prairie Wind
01/01/2006 - I've always felt that Neil Young and the brother/sister dream team of Donnie and Marie Osmond were pretty much the same. Okay, maybe same is the wrong word. How about similar? Alright, alright. I know. There are basically no similarities. But, in my defense, I will say this about my outrageous opening statement. Neil, like Donnie and Marie, is little bit country, and a little bit rock and roll. In fact, this is one of the key factors that drew me to him to begin with thirty years ago. I guarantee you it wasn't his singing, which as you know, could be more accurately described as a sort of freakish warbling and painful falsetto squawking sound. Now, Neil, if you happen to read this, please understand that my assessment of your vocal stylings is presented with respect and admiration. Your nasal, high, girlish, slow vibrato no longer frightens me as it used to. I have ceased staring at my car radio in shocked, confused disbelief when the classic sounds of "Heart Of Gold" or "Southern Man" come forth. In fact, I have learned not to mock, but to embrace your voice. You know, Neil, that all ordinary people owe you a debt of gratitude. You are the quintessential example of "Well, if he can do it, anyone can." Honestly. I have little doubt that I sound about 2,349 times better than you, especially in the shower. I'm reasonably sure I look better in there, too...
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Okay. So we have established that Neil's voice sends many folks screaming and waving their arms, frantically seeking a Michael Bolton or Josh Groban disc as the antidote for the unwarranted attack their ears. By the way, if you're one of them, you and I don't have much in common. Please stop reading this now and go back to listening to your Kenny G discs.
If his singing (in)ability is so well appreciated, how then can it be that Mr. Young is so stinking famous and wealthy? Why is he a rock icon, in league with names like Mick Jagger, Robert Plant, Janis Joplin, and Paul McCartney? It may have to do with the fact that for the past forty years or so, Neil Young has been busy writing consistently brilliant songs. Songs that have woven their way into our cultural conscious, and have become an integral ingredient in our collective lexicon. Not many artists can claim such distinction regardless of how well they can or cannot sing. And here's something else. Young's music carries with it that intangible something, that aural magic that makes it somehow so much cooler than any other thing you could be listening to.
Oops. There it is. I've done it. I've divulged the great secret. You see, long ago I realized that life is way too short and precious to spend any time listening to music that doesn't move you, that doesn't possess that special magic or conjure some kind of desired state of being.
This is what Neil Young is so good at. His music can take you places. Stark, sparse lyrical images float through the listener's mind, delivered with the gentle acoustic-folk-rock-country signature sound that so many of us have come to love. His latest, "Prairie Wind," breaks no new ground. It's simply his next piece of art, the latest work in his ever-expanding canon. It's not perfect. It's Neil, though, which means that it's well-crafted, thought provoking, and solid. It's comfortable, like an old sock or your special pillow. Like a favorite shirt or the thing you always order at the restaurant you always visit.
I have to admit though, that there is one glitch. One song. One moment on "Prairie Wind" where Neil's voice broke through all that nice stuff I just said about his music, and really got to me. When I heard it, I did one of those involuntary shivers. You know, it's that feeling you get when you accidently take a big swig of rancid milk, or find worms in the cereal box, after you've eaten a few bowls. Wanna have some fun? Are you excruciatingly bored (you must be, if you're still reading this)? Go out and buy Neil Young's latest and find that song.