ALBUM REVIEW: Colorado by Neil Young and Crazy Horse

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WRITTEN BY: Tim Shermer

At the 50-year mark of Neil Young and Crazy Horse landmark recording Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, the legendary collaboration was long overdue for another timeless album. 2003’s Greendale was too indulgent in concept; 2012’s Psychedelic Pill was outstanding road trip music and not much else. Joined by Nils Lofgren in place of Poncho Sampedro, 73-year-old Young and his band decided to give it another shot 9,000 feet up in the Rocky Mountains this summer—and as luck would have it, they delivered.

Colorado, out on all major platforms this Friday, October 25, is the 39th studio album attributed to Neil Young as songwriter, and in any just world it will go down as one of his finest. 

“My amp on this is just the same amp I had when I first started,” said Young to Wired magazine earlier this week. “I haven’t added anything to it. There’s nothing that changes the signal.”

Guitarist Nils Lofgren, who famously played on 1970’s “After the Gold Rush” and 1975’s “Tonight’s the Night,” joins Neil and the original Crazy Horse rhythm section (Billy Talbot on bass, Ralph Molina on drums) in Poncho’s absence. This is Lofgren’s first time recording with the band in 46 years—since playing on the 1973 Tonight’s the Night sessions in the wake of the deaths of roadie Bruce Berry and original Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten. This only further contributes to a classic sound that feels like an extension of avenues explored on Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, After the Gold Rush, Zuma, and a marriage of styles across all of Young’s past albums.

Colorado’s crown jewel, “She Showed Me Love,” is a 13-minute epic about climate change that calls to mind some of Crazy Horse’s most expressive performances. This is the kind of song that will become a staple of 2020s Farm Aid sets. Not only does it avoid sounding derivative of jams past, but also has a far greater sense of inertia than Psychedelic Pill’s marathon track “Driftin’ Back,” which clocked in at 28 minutes.

As Side A plays on through the extended harmonica figures of “Think of Me” and the lethargic “Help Me Lose My Mind,” Colorado begins to bear a distinct resemblance to 1975’s Zuma, ultimately favoring the almost Pettyesque, open-road rock of “Don’t Cry No Tears” over the stoned profundity of “Cortez the Killer” or “Danger Bird.” Standout piano ballad “Green Is Blue” made its live debut in Winnipeg earlier this year, and recalls the songwriting of past Lofgren collaboration “After the Gold Rush.”

If “She Showed Me Love” is this album’s “Down by the River,” then lead single “Milky Way” is its “Cowgirl in the Sand.” Even if you were to ignore that it’s basically the same progression and the fact that Neil reuses licks from the “Cowgirl” solo as it’s heard on the record, it possesses all of the masterfully loose guitar playing and catharsis of the 1969 staple—and it might as well be Colorado’s finale.

As with many of his 21st century releases, the lyrical content on Colorado can be a bit too on-the-nose at times; this is evidenced mostly on the B side of the record with tracks such as “Shut It Down” (a song about, well, shutting down “the system”) and “Rainbow of Colors.”

“Eternity” is another melodic piano song that would have worked seamlessly on After the Gold Rush, but it can’t help but feel like a throwaway track in the shadow of “Milky Way.” Maybe if it were shorter, it could work as the album closer a la “Cripple Creek Ferry.”

“Rainbow of Colors,” the second single released in September, sounds more like a campfire song than anything, but you know what, Neil’s earned at least one of those per record at this stage in his storied career. The best version of this album probably ends with “Milky Way” and plays more to the strengths of two cosmically talented guitarists, but alas.

Neil finally wraps things up with “I Do,” a worthy sequel to Zuma ballad “Through My Sails” and a considerable share of the David Crosby songbook. While it’s unlikely its tenderness will earn it fan favorite status next to “Harvest Moon,” it’s the contrast that lends more novelty to the avalanche-like jams that have long characterized the immortal Crazy Horse sound.

The recently released Mountaintop film is a lens into the creative process behind Colorado—and is just one of fifteen films Young claimed to be working on when he abruptly postponed a number of late-summer tour dates before Farm Aid. Fans who missed him last time around need not despair: a “FULL SCALE TOUR” with Crazy Horse in support of Colorado has been confirmed by the Neil Young Archives Times-Contrarian.  

Track listing:

  1. Think of Me
  2. She Showed Me Love
  3. Olden Days
  4. Help Me Lose My Mind
  5. Green Is Blue
  6. Shut It Down
  7. Milky Way
  8. Eternity
  9. Rainbow of Colors
  10. I Do

Follow writer Tim Shermer on Twitter @tdshermer

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