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CD Reviews:  Neil Young: Are You Passionate?

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Recently, while listening to the Neil Young and Crazy Horse classic from 1969, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, I was struck by how awesome this man's career has been. He is entering his fifth decade of making music and I can't even say how many albums he's made or been a vital part of (via Crazy Horse or Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young). What I do know is how uniquely diverse his progression has been through the decades, a nearly unprecedented commitment to evolution in sound, style and accompaniment, while never straying from the raw and unglamorous emotion that is Neil Young.

Are You Passionate? is not Neil Young's finest hour. It's not likely going to win any awards, nor will it provide a notable benchmark of any kind for this incredible career. What it does represent, however, is a new batch of songs, a fresh dose of integrity, another chapter in the massive biography which now very few can boast. Nearly 40 years along, Young reaches a point of no return…again! The second track on the new album is "Mr. Disappointment" and it essentially defines this and past projects as he declares, "I got faith in something, I'll never give up the fight." 

This time out, Young enlists the services of Booker T. and the MGs to step in for the traditional Crazy Horse band and the result is a groovier one. Booker Jones' signature organ on "Differently" places an entirely different R&B stamp on the otherwise gritty and deliberate guitar jams we've come to expect from Neil Young or his historic backing band. Mind you, the distorted guitars still ring out, even if subtly or slow. The opening "You're My Girl," an ode to Young's daughter, trots along with some of the catchiest licks on the record, while "Goin' Home" is an all out Crazy Horse jam session that coincidentally features Poncho Sampedro, Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina. Young was in the midst of recording these new songs when the September 11th attacks on America occurred and he pays homage with the aptly titled "Let's Roll," a slow, grinding blues ballad that suggests, "Let's roll for justice, let's roll for truth, Let's not let our children grow up fearful in their youth."

In the end, Are You Passionate? is a collection of love songs, some played hard and burley, some played with a tender chord. How Neil Young evolves or is ultimately perceived is completely up to him. No record company executive or passing musical trend will ever keep him from spreading his grungy wings and flying over unexplored ground. It's that component that makes even the average Neil Young records something special.

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