Neil Young is cantankerous as all get-out. He always has been, really, but between climate change, the Trump presidency, and the perceived inferior quality of most digital music, he’s just plain PISSED. Since the acclaimed Lionel aficionado auctioned off a chunk of his model train collection a couple of years back, leaving him down a hobby, it seems that the best way to address the inner tension was to reassemble the legendary Crazy Horse and travel to the Studio in the Clouds in Telluride to record the band’s latest barnburner, Colorado. Along with that, Abramorama is releasing a documentary on the recording of the album, titled Mountaintop. Both feature Young at his best, and his orneriest.
The record kicks off with the harmonica-driven, happily loping “Think Of Me,” but the Crazy Horse grunge and old Neil Young vinegar arrive in full force in “She Showed Me Love,” a 13-minute stomp featuring expansive jamming and Young’s ruminations on his age and his Earth. He acknowledges that he’s an “old white guy” who’s “a few bricks short of a load,” even muttering the phrase a few times (as an old guy might). His anger is directed at those most like him – “I saw old white guys try to kill Mother Nature” – and genuine admiration for those least like him – “I saw young folks fighting to save Mother Nature/I saw them standing for themselves,” maybe reminding him of his own youth, when he was doing things like writing “Ohio.”
Extended instrumental breaks are one of the best things about Mountaintop, which gives the viewer the thrill of seeing Young and guitarist Nils Lofgren playing off each other. Other moments are less playful – Young frequently curses over mistakes and equipment malfunctions, and we learn that at least one tech had to be “ejected” from the studio, which is actually a large house in a somewhat isolated area several miles outside of Telluride. After a successful take, someone remarks to Neil that, “It’s always scary when you’re that nice about it.” I’d imagine we’ve all had a boss like that.
Politics and mood swings aside, Colorado is vintage Neil Young with Crazy Horse – loud, ragged and passionate – but with a frequent quiet and melancholy that comes with aging. “Olden Days” is sung to a long-time friend for whom life has taken a sad turn.”Milky Way” has a bluesy, 70s feel, and Young sings of moments and people lost to time: “I was sailing in the Milky Way/Losing track of memories that weren’t that day/Right by her side.” Young’s still a romantic at heart – “Eternity” features old-timey piano and tap-dancing (seriously – it’s in the film) to complement the “clickety-clacks” that evoke the “train of love” he sings of.
One element that the film brings home is the truth that, despite their age and occasional fits of pique, those folks LOVE making music more than just about anything. This shows up best during the recording of the last track, “I Do.” It’s a simmering ballad that’s both raw and delicate – it’s what Young has always done like no other. The other men in the studio marvel over the glass harmonica he’s brought in to play, and watching him work it is nothing short of amazing. The mood in the studio is both hushed and intense – everyone can feel the beauty and magic happening. When it’s done, Young himself says, “I think we should stop and realize we did something great.”
Colorado was produced by Young and John Hanlon and mastered by by Chris Bellman. Crazy Horse features Nils Lofgren (guitars, vocals, pump organ), Ralph Molina (drums, vocals), and Billy Talbot (bass, vocals). Mountaintop was directed by “Bernard Shakey” (Neil Young’s pseudonym), with cinematography from Adam C.K. Vollick., and produced by Young and Daryl Hannah.
You can purchase Colorado here: https://neilyoung.warnerrecords.com/?ref=https%3A//neilyoungarchives.com/album%3Fid%3DA_107
Mountaintop played in theaters for one night – October 22. Keep checking back with americanahighways.org for information on any possible DVD or streaming release of the film.