The greatest chameleon of the past 30 years started to compose his first true solo record (as in DIY), but as is his way, the course changed a couple of times. And when he decided to flesh the material out with other musicians, he grabbed stellar sidemen including Spooner Oldham, “Duck” Dunn and Jim Keltner, along with longtime associate Ben Keith (who co-produced the record). The result is a relaxed, casual journey through some heartfelt and pensive songs that find Young in both a thankful and inquisitive mood. Comparisons will most certainly be made with Harvest and Harvest Moon because of the acoustic tone, but don’t play the trilogy card right away. This Neil Young is older, wiser, more reflective and less judgmental.
At 10 tracks and 40 minutes, it’s no coincidence that Silver And Gold plays like an album with two sides. Emotional differences? Now versus then? The opening number, “Good To See You,” is as simple and direct as it sounds. “Daddy Went Walkin” deals with broken families from the perspective of a hopeful child, and in “Buffalo Springfield Again,” Neil looks back at a different kind of broken family, and forward to enjoying the time after wounds have healed. In “The Great Divide,” he’s not fitting in among the broken plans and roads of uncertainty, and the arrow of blame sometimes points straight back.
“Distant Camera” and “Horseshoe Man” deal with the rebuilding and refocusing of lives, as well as the inability to easily do so sometimes. But regardless of whether you jump or need to be pushed, Young feels that ultimately a clear, honest love is the answer. As he states in “Razor Love”: “on the road there’s no place like home / Silhouettes on the window.”; and love “cuts clean through everything.”
“Without Rings” is perhaps the most puzzling song on the record. As the gentle melody repeats over and over like a gentle tide, Neil’s reviews his place, his purpose; his life theoretically passing within, not before his eyes:
fighting drugs with pain
there’s a war inside
pictures in my brain
I’m looking for a job
I don’t know what I’m doing
My software’s not compatible with you
But this I can’t deny
I know that you can fly
Because I’m here on the ground without you.”
As he did in “The Great Divide,” he’s feeling displaced but looking to communicate (“I’m waiting for a sign / I’m standing on the road / With my mind outstretched to you”). But with whom? A lover he is separated from? His god or maker? Perhaps, in a less harrowing way than “Tonight’s The Night,” with ex-bandmate Danny Whitten (“The road we used to ride / Together side by side / Has flowers pushing through the dotted line.”). It’s a haunting coda to the record.
The band is thoughtfully restrained and supportive of the songs throughout. Ben Keith, in particular, plays some beautiful pedal steel guitar, and when Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris chime in with background vocals on “Red Sun,” it’s just wonderful. And the cohesiveness of this record is pretty amazing considering its history. When several tracks were first assembled, Neil met up with his CSNY partners and offered them some songs for their album (four wound up on Looking Forward). One song remained from the DIY version, two were added after CSN raided the shelves, and two others date back over 15 years. Some of the songs have been played live but have changed names and arrangements over the years (“Without Rings” was called both “Pictures In My Mind” and “Sharpshooter”; “Red Sun” was “Railroad Town”). That his records successfully gestate in such a manner is nothing new for Young, who’s always had a fairly liquid catalogue of material to play with and draw from.
Although Silver And Gold finds Neil Young further on down the road, he’s yet to show signs that the well is even getting shallow, let alone drying up.