Oftentimes, I enjoy blogging about music the most when it’s spontaneous! This morning, I had no idea I would end up writing about Neil Young’s latest studio album. While if anything I now dig the man more than ever, it’s probably fair to assume we’ve seen his finest work. I mean how can you possibly trump gems like Harvest, Live Rust and Harvest Moon, to name three of his albums that come to my mind right away?
So how the heck did I end up with The Visitor? While listening to The Rolling Stones’ Exit On Main Street during breakfast, which BTW is great music for waking up, I was looking at Facebook pictures from Decade, a Neil Young tribute band I really like. Readers of the blog will probably remember the name, since I’ve covered them on various previous occasions.
Decade had their first gig of the year last night, which I unfortunately missed. So I gave a thumbs-up to the nice photos and lead guitarist Joey Herr’s red SG, one of the coolest looking Gibson models, in my opinion. I also told them their Facebook post made me feel like putting on some Neil. And so I did. Blame Apple Music for showing me The Visitor first as the “Latest Release!”
Leading up to the appearance of Young’s 39th studio album on December 1, 2017, I had casually listened to Already Great, one of two singles that came out prior to the record. While I didn’t think it was a bad tune, frankly, I wasn’t very impressed either. So when queuing up The Visitor after I was done with Exile this morning, I didn’t have particularly high expectations. To say it right upfront, the record isn’t on par with the above named albums. Yet, I was still pleasantly surprised that after 50-plus years in the music business, it’s obvious that Young has fire left in the belly!
The Visitor kicks off with the grungy sounding Already Great. When Young sings, Woke up this morning/Thinking ’bout you/And your new deal/(My American friend), there is no doubt who he is referring to. The song’s chorus also leaves no ambiguity how Young feels about the U.S.: Already great/You’re already great/You’re the promise land/You’re the helping hand. Credited to him and producer John Hanlon, it’s safe to assume the lyrics won’t endear him to all Americans, which is also true for the remainder of the record. But Young has always been outspoken (think Southern Man, for example), so I doubt he’ll get sleepless nights over it.
As I started listening to the acoustic Almost Always, I was like, ‘wait a minute, I know this melody.’ It didn’t take me long to figure it out: From Hank To Hendrix, one of my favorite tracks from the Harvest Moon album. And before I knew it, another piece from that record popped up: part of the guitar theme from Unknown Legend – kind of clever how Young mixed the two! Again, when it comes to the lyrics, it’s pretty clear what he is talking about: And I’m living with a gameshow host/Who has to brag and has to boast/’Bout tearing down/The things I hold dear.
Stand Tall is another grungy rocker. The lyrics take on the science deniers and the sad fact that their ignorance is now endorsed at the highest levels of power: Boy king don’t believe in science/It goes against the big money truth/This playpen is full of deniers/To flush our future down the tubes.
Perhaps the most peculiar track on the album is Carnival. It starts with Young laughing like he’s lost his mind. Then he describes what sounds like memories of a past visit to a carnival. Bongos and background vocalists singing carnival, carnival give the tune a Latin feel. Young also throws in elements of carnival music. It’s a somewhat weird and catchy tune at the same time. Listen for yourself!
And just when you think you’ve basically figured out the record, Young throws in a blues called Diggin’ A Hole.
The last track I’d like to call out is Children Of Destiny, the record’s lead single that was released on July 4, 2017. The timing certainly wasn’t a coincidence. It feels like a companion to Already Great and that Young essentially is saying it’s up to the young generation to keep the country that way: Stand up for what you believe/Resist the powers that be/Preserve the land and save the seas/For the children of destiny/The children of you and me.
Unlike the Shocking Pinks, a band made up for Young’s 1983 studio album Everybody’s Rockin’, Promise Of The Real is, well, a real band. Its members are Lukas Nelson (vocals/guitar), Anthony Logerfo (drums), Corey McCormick (bass) and Tato Melgar (percussion). Lukas is a son of Willie Nelson, the country music legend. Also playing on the album is Willie’s second son from his current marriage, Micah Nelson. Promise Of The Real also backed Young on his 36th studio album The Monsanto Years, which came out in 2015, and the tour that supported the record.
Is The Visitor likely to get Young new listeners? I doubt it – in fact, given how divided the country is, it may actually piss off some of the folks who have enjoyed listening to him in the past. While this album certainly feels more political than most of Young’s previous records, his true fans have always known that he doesn’t shy away from expressing his opinions. I’m definitely a part of that group. And I love the fact that Young still embraces these lines he composed many moons ago: My my, hey hey/Rock and roll is here to stay/It’s better to burn out/Than to fade away/My my, hey hey.
Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube