Neil Young Friends & Relatives

Reprise

Neil Young’s trashiest live recording yet opens with a blistering 18-minute version of “Cowgirl in the Sand” that Crazy Horse fanatics will probably deem eight minutes superior to the original opus. But that track, along with most of the others on Road Rock, Vol. 1, may send Young’s folkie followers racing back to Silver & Gold, the other terrific record the singer released in 2000. Young showcased his acoustic side on that outing, turning in a set of laid-back country-rock that made up in tunefulness what it lacked in bite or crunch. Here, he reverses that formula in a predictably perverse about-face that, on a lesser artist, would seem like a nervous tic by now. But for Young, reactionary changes of pace have always been part of the plan, a testament to the singer’s gift for putting both his split musical personality and his stoner’s short attention span to good use. On this latest disc, Young is back in ragged-glory mode, offering up not only the throbbing power chords of the opener but also a honky-tonk-metal treatment of his classic elegy “Tonight’s the Night.” Throughout the album, the leads are meandering but incendiary; the all-star band—which features Spooner Oldham, Donald “Duck” Dunn, and Jim Keltner, among others—is plodding but inspired; and the singing, as always, is great despite Young’s vocal limitations. Making good on their half of the LP’s “Friends & Relatives” credit, Young’s wife and sister provide backing vocals, turning an especially loose-limbed version of “Motorcycle Mama” into a genuine family affair. Friend Chrissie Hynde shows up, too, sweetening Young’s cacophonous take on “All Along the Watchtower,” which closes this most recent live set from rock’s most haphazard genius. —Shannon Zimmerman

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