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Prairie Wind
Artist: Neil Young
Label: Reprise Records 
CD Review by psychologist, Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, aka Dr. BLT, the Rock Doc 

A lot of water has passed under the bridge for Neil Young since 2002, when Neil Young blessed us with Are You Passionate? 

Some of the waters that have passed have been choppy, and rough, but the bridge of Young's spirit, has remained strong.  Some of the waters have been filled with streams of sadness.  Among the most noteworthy of a series of trials Young has had to endure are the passing of his father (just a few days before Fathers Day of this year), and a recent surgery for a brain aneurysm.  The fact that Father's Day Song of Sympathy for Neil Young has been so well received is a testimony to the overwhelming love his fans have for him. 

Loss is often, sadly, the concomitant byproduct that comes with aging, and with Neil's recent colossal contribution to culture, Prairie Wind, he demonstrates his ability to grow old gracefully, despite the pain that accompanies loss, hardship, and disappointment.  Some have drawn comparisons between Prairie Wind and Harvest Moon, but as the titles may suggest, in terms of the lyrical content, and the overall sound, I found Neil to be reaching for the stars in Harvest Moon and to be clinging to the earth in Prairie Wind.   There are also parallels between Prairie Moon and its predecessor, Are You Passionate? It is not the case of an elderly citizen repeating the same old stories again and again, but the story of the same universal themes, newly landscaped and revisited from an entirely new perspective by the same beloved artist.  It's as if that prairie wind that inspired the album's title and underlying concept has breathed a whole new life into them. 

I can relate to the prairie wind fellow Canadian Neil Young pays tribute to in this generous offering because I once felt that same wind blowing on my face as a child, a teen-ager, and finally, as a young man, as I strolled casually through the wheat fields of Saskatchewan.   In the wintertime, it was an icy cold that left my face red and caused a chill to ripple down my spine.  In the summer it was generally a gentle breeze, and in spring and fall, it was gusty and, often, dusty. 

Neil Young follows the wind through all of its seasons on this album, but the gusts are not as fierce as they were in Young's younger days, and the winter wind is a bit more merciful.  Overall, it seems like an album dedicated to the autumn.  It is perhaps early autumn in Neil Young's life.   All of the colors of the leaves are vibrantly depicted in this collection of Young songs. 

If that prairie wind had its way with me back in my youth, I'd be a free spirit now, but I didn't trust it enough to follow it.   Oh well, as Neil Young said in track one...

...If you follow every dream, you might get lost... 
If I had to be lost, however, I would much rather be lost in a prairie wind than in the city skyline.  Urban life has robbed us of so much.  We have all traded in our birthrights for city lights, and the accompanying stress that comes with living in the industrial age.  The prairies of mid-western Canada symbolize a time and a place marked by a certain innocence that is now all but lost in urban civilization. 

When I heard Prairie Wind, I had to pinch myself to find out if I was dreaming.  I was.  I was dreaming of a time and of a place that Neil Young has worked hard to recapture and to preserve in the musical museum that is his mind.   The first track on the CD, The Painter, introduces the tracts to follow as one might introduce a collection of long lost friends.  The Painter brings out the poet in Young, and what is a poet, if not a painter of prose? The Painter exposes us to a breeze that will build into the prairie wind. 

I have my friends 
We left our tracks in the sound 

Some of them are with me now 
Some of them can't be found 

I wonder if Neil was thinking of former friend and fellow band mate, the recently deceased Bruce Palmer, when he wrote these words.  They not only reflect upon the fondness Neil feels towards his true friends, but also upon the enduring value of friendship, and the enduring value of music as a diary for songwriters wanting to contribute a few entries that will fill the void of humanity. 
Tryin' to remember what my daddy said 
Before too much time took away his head... 
Struggling to recapture memories of a loved one, including the words of that loved one, is a way to memorialize the person we love and miss, in long term memory.  The more we feel we remember of them, the more we feel that in some way, they remain with us, at least in spirit.  I have heard many sentences spoken by those who have lost their fathers that begin with, "You know, my daddy once said..." 

The fear of being far from home, of being alienated from his family and from his roots, if not in life, than in death, is what seems to drive the song, Far from Home:

When I was a growing boy 
Rockin' on my daddy's knee 
Daddy took an old guitar and sang 
"Bury me on the lone prairie" 

...Bury me out on the prairie 
Where the buffalo used to roam 
You won't have to shed a tear for me 
Cause then I won't be far from home 

He wants to go back to the time when he thought his dad would never die, and he wants to reunite with his father in death.  So he is torn between the past and the future, and is imprisoned in some sense, in the present.  Music is the key that opens his cell door and lifts him above the bars and barbed wire.  The prairie wind tells him where to go once he has escaped.  He heads straight for the prairies.  The prairie is for Neil Young, the intimate landscape for memories of his childhood, memories that he treasures more now than ever.

"This Old Guitar" is redolent of John Denver's old song of the same title, in that it shares a similar sentiment, but Neil's song is marked by an entirely different set of auditory and lyrical fingerprints.  Every old guitar tells a different story. 

In Prairie Wind, Neil's guitar is the horse and buggy that transports his singular voice across prairie dirt clumps held together with strands of grass and thistles, dust that rises and settles in a matter of seconds, and rocks that remain steadfast come wind, rain, hail, sleet and snow.   His voice, alternatively smooth and raspy, intimately warms our hearts and wraps our souls in a past he has never left behind to fade.   Yes, in Prairie Wind, Young hugs the past with his passionate grip, but, at the same time, he reaches to the future and reminds us that the present has already past.  Young is getting older, but it's an older he's able to shoulder.  If you're looking for the fountain of youth, you'll find it in Young.  In short, Prairie Wind is a timeless treasure.

Rating of Prairie Wind by Neil Young 

To hear, and download for free, an expression of sympathy I wrote to Neil Young after his father past away, visit this link:

Father's Day Song of Sympathy for Neil Young 
Words and music by Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, aka, Dr. BLT, (c) 2005 

Though Paul McCartney brought in Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich to give some quirk to his new album Chaos and Creation in the Backyard and The Rolling Stones’ A Bigger Bang is their best album in twenty years, it is Neil Young who wins the best “over-sixty from the 'sixties” to release an album in early autumn. Young’s album Prairie Wind is being likened to his 'seventies classic Harvest and early 'nineties Harvest Moon. It is a lazy marketing ploy as they could just as easily name-checked Comes a Time, American Stars 'N' Bars or Silver and Gold. It means that this is rustic Neil with pedal steel instead of cranked up guitar. It is the ballad that dominates with Young’s voice all tremulous and frail. Augmented with strings, brass and gospel singers in various places, it is a suite of songs reminiscing and reflecting on how his life intersects with the politics of relationships and politics in general. 

That intersection sees him deal with the death of his father, his children leaving home, as well as war in Iraq and the changing ecology of his old prairie home. The tribute to his guitar, "This Old Guitar," is an awareness of the transitory nature of living and finding something that has been an anchor but which Young realizes he will have to leave behind. "He Was the King" guides us through memories of Elvis Presley and how in the end we are all just that – memories! "It’s a Dream" is about more memories of father, wife and children in the light of fearful world events and everyday family crisis of age and death and moving on. 

Of the standout tracks, "No Wonder" is an "After the Goldrush" for the third millennium, one of the best and most prophetically poignant songs Young has written in a while. The differing scientific views of earth as organic and mechanical collide in its’ disturbing images of the birdless Canadian skies with the clock ticking ominously and the church bells ringing out doomsday; while soldiers fall, lovers look towards heaven for guidance. The spiritual theme and the war clash again on the album’s final cut "When God Made Me." Long gone is the gung ho of "Let’s Roll" off his 2002 album Are You Passionate, when he was going to take up guns against America’s enemies. In this hymn of lamentation, with moving gospel singing, Young is asking if God is only for some and against others depending on country, race or creed. He asks if God envisioned wars fought in his name. It shows how rock music and maybe the world in general, so sympathetic to America’s tragedy on 9/11, are now angry with the arrogance of Washington’s response. Indeed, in the aforementioned "No Wonder" he says that Willie Nelson’s version of "America the Beautiful," sung around 9/11, keeps ringing in his head. 

The death of a loved one can jolt the heart, mind and soul into some reconsiderations and this album in the midst of its’ raw sadness throws out a clarity of perspective and throws it out beautifully. 
Steve Stockman is the Presbyterian Chaplain at Queens University, Belfast, Ireland, where he lives in community with 88 students. He has written two books Walk On; The Spiritual Journey of U2 which he is currently updating and The Rock Cries Out; Discovering Eternal Truth in Unlikely Music. He dabbles in poetry and songwriting and he has a weekly radio show on BBC Radio Ulster (listen anytime of day or night @ He has his own web page--Rhythms of Redemption at . He also tries to spend some time with his wife Janice and daughters Caitlin and Jasmine.


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