Something music fans might not expect from the godfather of grunge is delicate, orchestral arrangements in the place of distorted guitars and thundering drums.
But, for hardcore Neil Young fans, we know he does what he wants, and we’re better off for it – even if listening to him croon over the sound of an oboe isn’t quite your thing.
“Storytone,” released Nov. 4, is Neil Young’s 35th studio album, and while this new release caters to the softer sounds of Young’s vast career, it’s not without his golden standard of songwriting. Young has long been one of the archetypes for quality songs and he knows it. So much so that if you pick up the deluxe version of the album you get all the fancy arranged versions of the songs as well as the solo, sparse, acoustic versions. Overall, “Storytone” is a magically mellow groove that only gets better the more you listen to it and the further you get down the track list.
“Who’s Gonna Stand Up?” which is the second song on the album and the first single, begins with a brooding string arrangement that sounds like something Hans Zimmer would have composed for “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Conversely, the solo version’s banjo accompaniment sounds much more familiar to what folk/protest song lovers might expect from Young. The lyrics of the song candidly protest the bad things we are doing to our planet, such as hydraulic fracking and excessively building oil pipelines.
“Storytone” isn’t all biting protest material however, the second half of the album draws out a special warmth more in sync with what Young fans might expect. The song “When I Watch You Sleeping” features his iconic harmonica sound, gritty rhythmic guitar strums but, also, a lush soundscape of orchestral strings. It’s a must listen, as is its solo, stripped-down version. Young’s vocals on the solo version sound so intimate and subtle that time seems to stand still when listening to it.
Songs to check out on the full-band version of the album are the jazzy “Say Hello To Chicago,” the blues-rock groove on “I Want To Drive My Car” and the addictive musical hook on “All Those Dreams.” However, if you really want to fall in love with “Storytone” then you simply must check out the solo version. Both versions of the album are enjoyable, depending on what you are in the mood for, but the solo versions are the more repeatable.