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'Barn' is Neil Young's best album in quite a while

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Neil Young's new album is called "Barn," and that's where it was recorded - in an old barn on Young's property in the Colorado Rockies. It was cut in about 10 days with Young's longtime band, Crazy Horse, the musicians Young has performed with off and on for more than half a century. Rock critic Ken Tucker says "Barn" is the best Neil Young album in quite a while.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHANGE AIN'T NEVER GONNA")

NEIL YOUNG: (Singing) Ten men working had to get a new job, try to save the planet from a fuel-burning mob who turned on everyone for being so controlling, taking away all the freedom they've been knowing.

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: There's a sound you're likely to be familiar with - Neil Young's expressive yowling, backed by the ramshackle rhythms of Crazy Horse pounding out new material on "Barn." If you haven't listened to a Neil Young and Crazy Horse album in a long time, or maybe even thought about Neil Young in a long time, I ask you, has he ever written a prettier song than this one called "Tumbling Through The Years"?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TUMBLIN' THRU THE YEARS")

YOUNG: (Singing) Well, I was walking down the road, one step at a time, heading home. I was thinking about the love we shared, you and me. It's a complicated thing, this life. If I wasn't here with you, tumbling through the years without our love.

TUCKER: But, you may say, hasn't Neil Young made some of his loudest, most raw music with Crazy Horse? You're probably thinking of great, big and, yes, loud albums like "Zuma" and "Rust Never Sleeps." That aspect of Young's music, wielding his guitar like a sword slashing across his melodies, is very much a part of this album as well.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CANERICAN")

YOUNG: (Singing) I am American. American is what I am. I cast my vote, and now I got my man. Out on the range, I see the changes coming to this country. I am American. American is what I am.

TUCKER: Young's wife, the actor Daryl Hannah, filmed the making of the album in a drafty old barn, shaping a fine documentary that's available on the deluxe version of the album or as a separate release. Since this collection was recorded live, first or second takes only and just a few overdubs, you're essentially seeing "Barn" being built right in front of your eyes and ears. In Hannah's intimate images, Young and the three members of the current version of Crazy Horse - drummer Ralph Molina, bassist Billy Talbot and guitarist Nils Lofgren - look like grizzled, old prospectors, still sifting for gold in the countryside. They find it - the music version, anyway - more than once.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WELCOME BACK")

YOUNG: (Singing) Going to sing an old song to you right now - one that you heard before. Might be a window to your soul I can open slowly. I've been singing this way for so long, riding through the storm. Might remind me of who we are and why we walk so lowly.

TUCKER: That's the beginning of "Welcome Back," an eight-minute mood piece that only seems to ramble. It gathers strength and purpose to become one of Young's very best we're-all-in-this-mess-together songs. For a long time, Young has also been a nature writer, a composer of pastorals fretting over the environment. This album finds him sometimes composing lyric hymns to the Earth and sky or raging against destruction on the horizon.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HUMAN RACE")

YOUNG: (Singing) Today no one cares. Tomorrow no one shares because they all will be gone but the children - children of the fires and floods.

TUCKER: Neil Young's voice now sounds almost exactly the same as it did when he was a skinny Canadian telling us, everybody knows this is nowhere. A half-century later, he's cutting songs in a barn made from logs, the wind whistling through their cracks. The music here waves to us, a fond hello that's more full of spirit and life than we might've expected.

GROSS: Ken Tucker reviewed Neil Young's new album "Barn." If you'd like to catch up on FRESH AIR interviews you missed, like this week's interviews with Benedict Cumberbatch, who stars in the new film "The Power Of The Dog," and Brian Cox, one of the stars of "Succession," check out our podcast. You'll find lots of FRESH AIR interviews.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T FORGET LOVE")

YOUNG: (Singing) Don't forget love. Don't forget love. Don't forget love. Don't forget love. Don't forget love. Don't forget love. When you're angry and you're lashing out, don't forget love. You don't know what you're talking about, don't forget love. When the wind blows through the crime scene and the TV man starts talking fast, don't forget love. Don't forget love. Don't forget love.

GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our senior producer today is Sam Briger. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham, with additional engineering from Adam Staniszewski. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Kayla Lattimore. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T FORGET LOVE")

YOUNG: (Singing) When you're taking and you could be giving, when you're dying and you could be living, don't forget love. Don't forget love. Don't forget love. Don't forget love. Don't forget love. Don't forget love. Don't forget love. When you're waking up... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.