Album reviews: Neil Young with Crazy Horse, Angel Olsen, Kendell Marvel and Jimmy ‘Duck’ Holmes
What you should, or should not, be listening to this week.
Neil Young with Crazy Horse
Neil Young’s 39th album is the first in seven years that the ragged rocker has released with Crazy Horse, his rowdy beast of a band. But the version of the Horse that Young assembled in the snowy Rocky Mountain town of Telluride to record Colorado this past spring is freshly updated with an old friend. Instead of now-retired guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro, Young is joined by Nils Lofgren, who played on Young’s After The Gold Rush album in 1970 but has busied himself with a solo career and as a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band in recent decades. Lofgren fits right back in with the Canadian rocker, joining in the spirit of spontaneous creativity and occasionally cutting loose with Young, as on the 13-minute “She Showed Me Love,” a song about how “old white guys” not so different in age and complexion from Young seem intent on killing Mother Nature. Rage against the desecration of the environment fuels Colorado, a 10-song set that arrives along with Mountaintop, an in-the-studio verite documentary movie that Young directed under his Bernard Shakey alias.
Self-righteousness and didacticism have often gotten the better of Young’s art, but they’re mostly used effectively on Colorado as he vents his frustration on “Shut It Down” and gets so fed up with day-to-day existence that he’s moved to make the perfectly reasonable request for someone to please “Help Me Lose My Mind.” He strikes a sweet, romantic chord on “I Do,” a love song to his new wife, Daryl Hannah, and he’s written a powerful plea for embracing a multihued American future on “Rainbow of Colors,” in which a rough chorus of Crazy Horse members insist that “no one’s going to whitewash those colors away.” — Dan DeLuca
Going back to her 2010 debut EP Strange Cacti, Angel Olsen has always been able to stun with emotive songs and her piercing alto. Ever since, her music has gotten rougher, bigger, and stronger, from 2014’s garage-rock Burn Your Fire For No Witness to 2016’s fully fleshed-out My Woman. All Mirrors takes a big leap forward, drenching her voice in reverb and surrounding it with soaring orchestral strings. The passionate, all-in sonic strategy is fabulously effective on the opening “Lark,” with a heartbeat pulse that soars to a crescendo as it regards a transformative love affair from shifting perspectives. The album’s gleaming surfaces reflect back on one another, shining light and casting shadow as the singer confronts her various selves, unsure of where she stands. How to locate the true you in a funhouse world that’s “All Mirrors"? The strings and synths and booming drums often dazzle, but Olsen’s arresting voice is sometimes overwhelmed by grandiose walls of sound. The songs could use a little room to breathe. Intriguingly, Olsen also recorded a second version of All Mirrors, recorded in stripped-down folkie form, due out at a yet-to-be-determined date. Comparing and contrasting the relative effectiveness of the two approaches will have to wait till then. — Dan DeLuca
Angel Olsen and Vagabon play the Franklin Music Hall, 421 N. Seventh St, at 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 31. $35. All ages. 215-627-1332.
Solid Gold Sounds
(Easy Eye Sound *** 1/2)
Jimmy “Duck” Holmes
(Easy Eye Sound ***)
Besides being one-half of a major rock band, the Black Keys, Dan Auerbach owns a Nashville record label for which he is a prolific producer. These two releases show his stylistic breadth, as well as his ability to put disparate artists in their best light.
Kendell Marvel has the deep voice, concise writing style, and thematic concerns of a country traditionalist. On Solid Gold Sounds, Auerbach backs him with up to a baker’s dozen of instrumentalists and singers, but the arrangements never seem cluttered or obtrusive. Instead, they enhance Marvel’s topflight originals (all cowritten by Auerbach) and his delivery as he ranges from smooth balladeer to edgy country-rocker. He also offers a terrific country-soul take on the Bee Gees’ “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You.”
Jimmy “Duck” Holmes is a 72-year-old bluesman, and Cypress Grove, named after one of the Skip James songs he deconstructs here, is as elemental as it gets. It’s pretty much what you might hear if you saw the singer-guitarist playing at his Bentonia, Miss., juke joint. Auerbach backs him with just bass and drums, sometimes adding his own guitar and that of rising star Marcus King (there is also a sax on one cut). Whether putting his own spin on numbers by Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, and Bentonia’s James, or offering some of his own songs, Holmes casts a transfixing spell. — Nick Cristiano