Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Neil Young Old Ways (1985)


Oh, how I hate country music! I used to live in the Midwest, and they would play this stuff all the time in church services and convenience store rest rooms. I’m so glad to have been liberated from country-western’s evil grasp … until now. I was minding my own business listening to Neil Young’s discography, and he sics a country-western album on me! Boooooooooo!

Yup, I have a bias, and you can adjust the tone of this review to fit your own views of country western. Despite the fact that I hate the genre, at least Neil Young seemed more at home here than he had been in previous albums. Surely, doing a straight country album was the closest he had gotten to his classic sound ever since Comes a Time. Nonetheless, this still wasn’t what the critics and his long-time fans longed to hear, and this certainly isn’t what his label wanted. According to Young, he tried releasing a country album titled Old Ways a few years before this release, but they rejected it and wanted a rock album instead. Young, being a smartass, released Everybody’s Rockin’. So I guess that must be why the label finally caved in and let him do a country album rather than bearing through whatever horrors the dude would unleash next!

Even as someone who professes to hating the genre, half of these songs are worth hearing. The opener “The Wayward Wind,” the album’s only cover, is as pleasant as warm sunshine! It’s also fairly cliché, but Young’s decision to put in these scaling string tracks (that sound like the wind) lends it a unique texture. “Get Back to the Country” is a bona fide hillbilly hoedown song, and of course those things are fun to begin with! But that Jew’s harp boinging around makes it even more giddy and bubbly.

“Old Ways” is closer to The Rolling Stones circa Beggars Banquet than straight country, and it’s better for that. Young’s vocal performance actually has a bit of a snarl to it, and he’s surprisingly convincing at it! That’s clearly one of the album’s highlights, but nothing can get better than that bittersweet “My Boy,” which is easily one of Young’s best ’80s songs. It is very close to his classic style, and it’s better for that in my opinion. Not only is the melody original (thus far removed from being genuine *country*), but so are the chord progressions. The instrumentals feature some brilliant, melancholic fiddle and slide guitar… this is a strong example of great ways to utilize those instrumentals.

I also enjoyed listening to “Bound For Glory.” The rhythm might be way too simplistic, and its running length seems too overextended, but I really like the melody! That’s another songs that isn’t *really* country. (Or maybe it is … I’m probably just calling the songs I like “not really country” to justify liking them!)

OK, let’s talk about the crap now. “Once an Angel” is terrible. It’s a gospel-country song that trudges along at a snail’s pace. The slide guitar is well-played, but it ends up just making it more dreary. Icky, icky stuff. “Misfits” has interesting orchestration (most notably a female back-up singer that sounds a little like a ghost). For that reason, it had a lot of potential, but it was misfired a bit. The melody is very repetitive and boring, and I would have rethought that very clunky rhythm. I like “California Sunset,” but it doesn’t do anything that any old country musician could do. I don’t want to listen to any old country musician! I want to listen to Neil Young!!! The second half of this album is overwhelmingly better than the first, but the closing track, “Where is the Highway Tonight,” is very weak. That’s an incredibly dull country-western tune with a boring melody, and it also goes at a snail’s pace… I mean, if you’re going to write all these slow songs, the least you could do is make them beautiful instead of flat and dreary. Bluh!

In the end, Old Ways is hardly a bad album, and I certainly like it more than that quizzical Everybody’s Rockin’. At least Young seems like he’s in his element. It’s certainly worth listening to, especially if you’re a Neil Young fan who had avoided this record for some reason. I’m sure you’ll enjoy listening to half of this album, so that’s worth something.

March 15, 2013 - Posted by | Neil Young Old Ways |

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