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Neil Young's 'A Letter Home' album review

By Will Ashton,
Author Rating: 
3.5 Stars

With his 34th studio album A Letter Home, musician Neil Young decided to strip down his act to its raw essentials.

In a move that often feels as though he is perhaps a little too inspired by the works of Johnny Cash towards the end of his career, Young composes his newest record solely with covers from others musicians. He covers artists like Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, Willie Nelson and Bruce Springsteen. A Letter Home has Young working solely by himself — no other musical accompaniment to be found — as he provides tenderly produced renditions of classic songs like "On the Road Again" and "Early Morning Rain," while never forgetting to keep his Young signature sound intact.

Recorded entirely in a refurbished 1947 Voice-o-Graph vinyl recording booth at the Third Man store, owned by Jack White in Nashville, there is decidedly a long-lost album-of-the-past quality here that helps bring memories of Young's early work to the forefront. Primarily, it is his covers of Phil Ochs' "Changes" — the album's first, and best, song — Nelson's "Crazy" and Lightfoot's "Early Morning Rain" that accomplishes Young's rooted goal with the most efficiency.

However, due to the lack of variety in the album, A Letter Home suffers primarily from its repetition. There is not a lot here that distinguishes one song from the next. While that may be part of the point, it makes for a rather dull listening experience as the album progresses. He thankfully mixes it back up again with his final track, a cover of The Everly Brothers' "I Wonder If I Care as Much," but this is after at least two or three songs that seem to cause one to zone out from the record's intentions.

Despite this, A Letter Home remains one of Young's most tender and emotionally honest collection of music in some time. Considering this is Young that is being talked about here, that should say something. With hints of Dylan's early work throughout, there is a breezy, laid-back quality to his collection that should make for easy listening. This album would be great to listen to on a long car drive through the country, or the back of the porch on a starry night. This sorrowful, but heartfelt, little album is perhaps one of the most genuinely raw major albums to come out in quite a while.

 
 

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