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June 2000 Pick of the Month
Silver and Gold 
Artist: Neil Young
Label: Warner Brothers/WEA
Length: 10 Tracks

Samples
Silver & Gold

Neil Young is a man of many moods and astonishing versatility.  The same aging 70's rocker recently put out a collaboration with Pearl Jam that rocks as hard as a Seattle Band has ever rocked, beginning to end.  Neil's fiery roar provided a challenge that the young rock stars could hardly match.  Not long before that, Harvest Moon became an instant classic of mellow, wistful songwriting from the heart.  It was a tribute to reminiscing, to claiming something valuable and good in memories of hard times, of making meaning in retrospect.  Neil crooned softly, in delicate harmony with Linda Ronstadt.  Since then there have been a riveting concert video and a reunion album with his band Crazy Horse called Broken Arrow

Silver and Gold is another album in the Harvest Moon vein.  In fact, it's even sparser and gentler than that.  It's the voice of a man who is finding contentment, having worked through regret and tribulation.  It's an album about the love of simple things.  Some might gripe that this is Neil taking it too easy.  But here is an artist whose work one can only truly appreciate if it's heard in view of the larger whole.  Yes, these are simple songs.  If a young songwriter got up and sang them, they might even seem trite.  But this is the voice of a man who has been through the wringer, who has seen it all.  And if you've been paying attention, you'll feel the weight, the sincerity in these songs... the simple realizations gained after a long journey, a thorough search.

The song "Silver and Gold" might be the triumphant conclusion to the search that began in Neil's classic hit "Heart of Gold"; a powerful affirmation of a tried and true love.  "I don't care if the sun don't shine/and the rain comes pourin' down on me and mine/ Cause our kind of love never seems to get old.../ It's better than silver and gold."  "Daddy Went Walkin" is just a playful number about Dad going out and cutting wood, accompanied by the barnyard cat.  Is that really worth a song?  Like a William Carlos Williams poem about a red wheelbarrow, Neil Young is calling attention to the lasting value of simple memories, simple lives, simple tasks.

Along this road of simple realizations, it is a delight to hear the gospel's still small voice rising to join the chorus.   Christ is peering out at us from the songs of a man who has danced around the subject for a long time.  The song "Horseshoe Man" sounds suspiciously like a song about Jesus.  "In the land of the broken hearted/people lookin' for the Horseshoe Man/They been pickin' up little pieces/They been putting them all in his hands... Love ain't looking for perfection/Love's the answer, love's the question." 

In "Red Sun", it's even clearer; he assures the burdened pilgrim that "the dreams that you're having/they won't let you down/ if you just follow on/'cause you know where you're bound/The well will be flowin' /And the words will come fast/When the one who is comin'/Arrives here at last."(It's no surprise to hear Emmylou Harris's voice in the background; her presence and gospel themes seem to go hand in hand these days.) 

So much Christian music rings so hollow in my ears.  We're surrounded by spiritual adolescents dressed up in the latest fashions singing songs about God's constant companionship through trials, and they've only just begun their journey.  Perhaps they're sincere, but do they ever sing about the trials?  Do they ever ask the questions?  Do they ever express their anger, their pain, their failures in song?  (To be fair, there are a few that do.)   Like veterans Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Patti Smith, and double-decade rockers Bruce Cockburn and Bono, Neil Young has been through it.  When he's angry, he sings it.  When he's lost, he sings it.  When he's filled with regret, he sings it.   In view of his whole body of work, a song about relief, contentment, and redemption is a very heavy thing.  He has scars.  And that is why these sentiments, now, in this context, on this guitar, ring so true, so beautifully, so powerfully.

A gospel song on the radio might lift my spirits.  But a seasoned traveler who can tell me the truth is still true on the other side of  the trials and the storms...that's a man who earns my rapt attention.

Jeffrey Overstreet 05/22/2000


 

Jeffrey Overstreet writes regular reviews, news, and essays on the arts and Christian perspectives at the Green Lake Reflections web page and in The Crossing, a magazine for Christian artists.  He has been published in Christianity and the Arts Magazine, The New Christian Herald, and AngliCan Arts Magazine, and he is a founding member of Promontory Artists Association.  You can contact Jeffrey at Promontory@aol.com

Maybe it is the setting. Iím on a wee vacation in my favorite north Irish coast hide away cottage and my wife and I are getting away from the pressurized burn to just let the candle flicker a while. This album arrives in the middle and is the perfect soundtrack. After a few albums of blistering loud guitar solo albums and the touring and live albuming thereof Young always comes back to his home. He kicks off the shoes and realizes how good love is and just sits back on the old porch and writes great songs. Without the noise you can hear them. Think of what the Unplugged album did for Hurricane. Just the songs. Comfortable, relaxed and at peace with himself and in love with his wife and his art.

That is Silver and Gold. The reviews have been referencing it to Harvest and Harvest Moon,Comes a Time, and After The Gold Rush and, of course, they are trying too hard. Every now and again Neil just goes acoustic. Donít think any deeper than that. Iím actually thinking that this is as consistent a mellow set the man has ever done. The critics have in places talked of boring and retreading but they are up to their own proverbials. What is wrong with singing about being in love and why should the break up albums be the best loved ones. The songs here are gorgeous. The lyrics might not be his deepest but are far from second rate. The playing is minimal but full of major touches of beauty. Maybe a little more of Harris and Ronstadt would have been a bonus but Iíll tell you that every time I leave the city and the pressurized burn behind. When I say to my wife ďCome away my loveĒ Iíll be taking Silver and Gold with me. ďAll I need is this song of love to sing for youĒ. Indeed. 

Steve Stockman 05/23/2000


 

Steve Stockman is a Chaplain at Queens University, Belfast, Ireland, where he lives in community with 88 students. He used to book the bands for Greenbelt, edits Juice magazine, has a weekly radio show on BBC Radio Ulster and a web page - Rhythms of Redemption at http://stocki.ni.org. He also tries to spend some time with his wife Janice and 20 month old daughter Caitlin.

 

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