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Neil Young Faces A 'Fork In The Road'

A concept album about fuel-efficient cars may not sounds like the most promising idea for lively music, but that's what Neil Young has done with his new collection of songs. Young begins Fork In the Road singing about how he's touring the country, playing music and driving — or playing driving music in every sense. The bulk of Fork In The Road was written in late 2008 during and between concert tour-dates.

The music has that deceptively dashed-off quality that is characteristic of younger-than-Neil hip-hop performers, punk-inspired rockers and the rare musicians of Neil Young's generation who haven't settled into complacent craftsmanship.

Directly addressing that Neil Young generation I just mentioned, Young composes a tune with the refrain, "Just singing a song won't change the world." In Young's current view from the highway, his 1959 Lincoln Continental retooled to run on alternative energy, peace & love has given way to pollution & the economy.

Using blues structures and rock rhythms, Young manages to make almost-poetry out of a couplet like, "The awesome power of electricity stored for you in a giant battery." What sells this stuff is the inescapable feeling that Young really does think the humble battery is, well, "awesome."

On a first listen, the music can sound repetitive. But pretty soon I realized that the pleasure I was getting from listening over and over, lay in the fact that this is a jam album. Young and long-time collaborators such as steel guitarist Ben Keith blast out lots of noise in the manner of other underrated Neil Young albums, like 1974s On The Beach. And its politics are better articulated than they were on more recent records like the 2006 Living With War.

In that title song, Young slips back and forth between the characters of a truck driver and a "big rock star." As the rock star, he sings, "My sales have tanked, but I still got you; thanks." Whether talking about gas tanks or stock-market tanks, Young has made a first-rate album for the new economic policy — how it affects him, you, and the citizens he sees on the road. And as he advises, "never take your eyes off the road."

Copyright 2022 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Ken Tucker
Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.