Simply put, this isn’t Neil Young’s best work — but it isn’t his worst work, either.
Peace Trail contains 10 songs covering a brisk 38 minutes. The sound is familiar, with a folky garage rock vibe centered around Young’s vocals and guitar parts. Helping Young record the album were drummer Jim Keltner and bassist Paul Bushnell, who provide a solid and organic backing.
The LP successfully marries elements from Young’s past albums like the dark acoustic On The Beach, the experimentally robotic Trans, and the warm folky Harvest Moon. This should appeal to fans of Young’s deeper catalog, and there are some interesting moments when Young’s political ramblings about terrorism and environmental pollution sound fresh and gentle — not as forced or angry as they have been at times in the 2000s.
Perhaps the best thing about Peace Trail is the soulful harmonica playing from Young, which at times has an overdriven amplified sound much like his signature guitar tone. The guitar playing is also quite good on this album, although he keeps the soloing restrained for the most part to a single line here and there.
The biggest problem with Peace Trail is that Young seems to be re-hashing older material without any particularly new or groundbreaking results. This is a criticism that’s been raised against Young for literally decades, and comes with the territory for any artist as prolific as he has been. Neil Young’s unique musical identity and past success make for a double-edged sword when it comes to releasing new albums, because he’ll always be held against the impossibly high standards of his past work.
Peace Trail starts strong with a string of four tunes that fit cleanly in Young’s catalog: “Peace Trail,” “Can’t Stop Workin’,” “Indian Givers,” and “Show Me.” Things take a turn with the herky-jerky “Texas Rangers,” which sets the stage for the deeper storytelling tunes on the album: “Terrorist Suicide Hang Gliders,” “John Oaks,” and “My Pledge.” Young sounds like a broken man searching for redemption, which has been a common theme throughout his career but takes new meaning in light of his old age.
The album-closer, “My New Robot,” ends the album on a bit of a sour note, as Young describes ordering a robot from Amazon.com and going through the registration process. When the song ends abruptly, it makes for a less-than-satisfying conclusion to the album. You could call it a practical joke or a statement on the nature of computer crashes, but as a listener it’s just sort of bewildering and sounds unfinished.
Young has seemingly always had a gift for combining deep grooves with evocative lyrics, melodies, and harmonies, and this album shows that he is still a master craftsman as he ages into his 70s. Our favorite songs on Peace Trail are “Peace Trail,” “Can’t Stop Workin’,” “Show Me,” “Terrorist Suicide Hang Gliders,” and “My Pledge.”
Peace Trail is currently available on Amazon. You can also stream the full album for free above, via Spotify.
For more, check out the Neil Young Zumic artist page.