By Mark Smotroff
While contemplating whom to vote for, you might want to pick up Neil Young’s most recent album “Americana” to listen, watch and learn.
This Blu-ray Disc is a long form video album, with repurposed “found” silent black & white film depicting Americans in heartland and city scenarios — from backwoods to big city depression to civil war heroes and westward-driven pioneers, all set to the new Neil Young music. It is absolutely riveting at times.
If you desire a pristine Jazz At The Pawnshop-style recording, then most Neil albums won’t be your “cuppa.” However, if you want to hear passion oozing from your speakers, you should spend some time with Neil. He goes to great pains to ensure his albums ring true. So if the band plays loud and distorted in his barn studio, the record will reflect that sound. Americana delivers the tone crunch of vintage amps turned up just right so the hot tubes create “that sound” of Neil’s 1959 Gibson “Black Beauty” Les Paul in overdrive.
The CD of this album sounds good, but the 192 kHz / 24-bit stereo Blu-ray Disc trounces it with presence and detail. On “Gallows Pole” I hear the resonance and pushed air of the kick drum. I can follow the smack of the sticks on the snare drum head, as the drummer lets it float for a split second allowing the snares to resonate before making the next hit. The ride cymbal rings like a bell and the crash slashes through the mix. These details are all but lost on the CD.
This is my kind of demo disc as it tests whether your system can deliver the heart and soul of the music. A pristine recording may sound clean but oftentimes is rendered sterile and thus won’t push your gear to deliver the FEEL of a song the way the artist intended. If the essence of the music has been produced OUT of a recording you lose that magic something that sends a shiver down your spine. Some artists will work hard to get this feel and don’t worry quite so much about a buzzing amp or string here and there – that IS part of the recording. If artist, producer and engineer have done their jobs right, the sound coming out of those speakers will not only be the music, but pure feel.
Neil’s tremolo and fingers bending guitar strings, the flowing pulse of Ralph Molina’s drums against Billy Talbot’s bass and the interplay between Neil and Frank “Poncho” Sampedro’s guitars all combine to evoke the yearning within Americana.
Big guitars, pounding drums, propulsive cymbals, raging rhythms, chanting voices and choirs – they are all there for the taking on Americana.