Neil Young is about to release a brand new album, his second of 2014, and if you are to listen to it on the surface, it sounds like a man who is a bit heartbroken. Maybe that’s partly due to the recent news that he divorced his longtime wife of 36 years, so one may want to add that to the aura of some of the lyrics on Storytone (Reprise) but I’m sure that some of these songs may have been written years, if not decades ago. Nonetheless, Young is very much a lone trooper and has been throughout his musical career so regardless of how you look into this new material, it sounds like the same man who has been feeling life from every angle, and these are more stories from the book of Bernard Shakey.
The interesting thing about this album is that the songs feature full orchestral backing, the first time he has done so in such a big level. You may remember the orchestra he used 42 years ago for “A Man Needs A Maid”, and you can say it sounds a bit like that. If there is a similar vibe to the songs here, it reminds me a bit of his great album Greendale, not so much the concept aspect but the continuity of an overall theme, a feeling that all of the songs have some connection and thus should be heard as one. If you obtain the deluxe edition of the album, listeners are able to hear the songs in its original form, without the orchestral backing. Some of the songs sound quite good with lush strings while others are perfect with just an acoustic guitar, a piano, or an ‘ukulele. The demo recordings come off like a man sitting on the lake, out on a country field, or a late night in the basement studio just feeling what he feels and creating it from the heart. In fact, as with much of his work, this is a very heartfelt album but you could sense there was something else going on as he did these songs. Some tracks sound as if he’s writing about someone and the good times he’s had with them, or maybe it’s just tales of what love can feel like. Regardless of the inspiration behind these songs, Storytone could easily fit alongside an album like Old Ways, not due to the country music parallels as this album lacks it but just the openness of the sentiment involved in each song. Unlike A Letter Home which was recorded in an old record recording booth, the new album was done in a modern way so it sounds like more recent projects of his. This is music from a man who is about to turn 69 years old in two weeks, so while this may be nothing more than a continuation of his output of the last 45+ years, it remains a cherished work from someone whose essence will never be equaled again.