Robert Plant and Alison Krauss
* * *1/2
Matthew Sweet doing an album with Susana Hoffs last year was kind of an interesting collaberation. This pairing seems to have come out of left field. I haven’t heard much of Plant since his days of getting the Led out, and Alison’s seem to have gone missing of late.
It seems that it’s become the trend for classic artists to come back and sing standards, or have some sort of striped down approach. And oddly enough it almost works every time. However, this doesn’t sound like one of those albums. If you took the names off of the album and played it, you’d be certain you’re hearing the latest, greatest alt-country band you’ve never heard of.
This is a dark album of enormous beauty, a collection of covers that sound like they should only be played on a lonely highway at night in a Southwestern desert, or a small honky-tonk after everyone’s left but the truly sad drunks. Roly Salley’s “ Killing the Blues,” Tom Waits’ “Trampled Rose” are highlights, as is an amazing take on Sam Phillip’s “Sister Rosetta…” which is a show stopper on the album. There are a few indulgent choices of material (Fortune Teller for instance), which seem sort of out of place on the album, but when they hit the mark, it’s a bull’s eye. The best collaboration since Jack White and Loretta Lynn.
Chrome Dreams II
* * *
To say that Neil Young is prolific, is about as much of an understatement as saying he’s influential. He’s a living legend, one of the most important musicians of the last century, and has had a rather eccentric, wildly uneven, and at times just plain lousy string of releases the last, 25 years. Then again it’s not always his fault, as he was, until recently, contractually obligated to release an album a year. At first that meant self-indulgent experimental albums like Trans (while unlistenable, the attempt is noble in trying to reach his son, who has cerebral palsy) or some acknowledged throwaways. Lately he’s made some nice decisions of late issuing live recordings, and next year a mammoth 8 disc 2 DVD set. And last year’s Living with War, was the first sign of life from Young in 10 years.
Propelled by the experience making that album, and touring with CSNY again, Neil sounds awake again, on Chrome Dreams II. As the title references the nixed Chrome Dreams album, this is an album that is about putting the pieces back together. And in that way, in its form and content, this is a good synthesis of everything Neil Young has ever recorded. Beautiful Bluebird, refers to Out on the Weekend, in its sound, and could very well fit on Harvest. The near 20 minute Ordinary People could very well have come from one of his better albums from the 80’s, recalling songs like “Like a Hurricane.”
For most of his life Young was agnostic at best. His near death experience in 2005 brought us Prairie Wind, with a rather abstract, and sometimes clumsy, spirituality. But Chrome Dreams II, is a spiritual album. On this album he is as passionate about his relationship with the Divine as he is about the plight of the working class, and when the album mixes both, it is quite moving.
This album is another good sign from Young. And while it lacks the intense and immediate punch of Living With war, it’s still a solid album.