Neil Young has never shied away from using his music to promote social justice and causes he believes in. In The Monsanto Years, he, of course, is protesting Monsanto’s various actions against sustainable farming and harm to the environment. He also advocates for sustainable farming, ocean conservation, endangered species, renewable energy and corporate accountability in general.
What saves this album from being way, way too preachy is the fact that Young still sounds like Young – his voice still has the same high-pitched but strong delivery. The new band, Promise of the Real (which features Willie Nelson’s sons Micah and Lukas), still delivers straight rock and roll with lots of feedback and extended jams so that all the fans of Neil Young and Crazy Horse will recognize that it is just as solid a band. Of course, it’s not smooth and it does have some rough edges, but that is part of Young’s trademark style and is what his fans expect. Nobody wants smooth from Young or any band who plays with him..
Notes like the whistling on “A Rock Star Bucks a Coffee Shop” add a bit of needed lightness to what is a very serious, if righteous message. Other standout songs include the acoustic “Wolf Moon” and “Workin’ Man.” “A New Day for Freedom,” while a bit hard on the ears at first, lends a hopeful, happy note to the tunes.
A nice bonus in the package is a DVD with some footage of Young and the band playing together. There is not a lot on the DVD that you don’t get on the CD but it is fun to see them perform. This is probably something that any collector will want to add to their collection.
Frankly, this is never going to be one of this reviewer’s favorite Neil Young albums because my personal preference is for the earlier, more personal and more folk-oriented stuff, particularly Harvest Moon. Many people, including me, will not appreciate being preached at for an entire album. The message is important, and it is good that Young is speaking up, but perhaps it would have been more effective if he had leavened it with at least a song or two that was less political.
Still, Young is always worth giving a listen or two, and you should definitely hear it yourself, listen to what the man has to say, and make up your own mind about the album.
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