Barn is a languorous record, and a better late-career effort that most artists can muster.
Neil Young again pairs with Crazy Horse for the 14th time on Barn, an album recorded on Young’s property during the pandemic. Opting for a more subdued approach this time out, the rock legend abandons his typical thematic throughlines and instead breezily drifts through thoughts, seemingly as they come to him. This stream-of-consciousness effect largely plays well on the record, albeit producing a couple of notable duds and wafting a vague lack of purpose.
Barn carries a loose, improvisational sound, which can likely be explained by Young only minimally preparing for recording. His method typically includes strumming out a melody and singing a few words once, at most, before the recording session, going in as fresh as he can. On a record as sparse as this one, the approach works shockingly well. A master of his craft, Young waxes on musings as disparate politics, the concept of waiting, and feelings of lost love, and in some ways, the artist is progressing in precisely the way one might expect based on his early output some 50 years ago. He still cares about the environment and the turning of the world around him, but he’s abandoned his cynicism to some degree, here continuing to litter morsels of hope for the future. In other ways, he’s the same old Neil, no big shifts to be found, with a slightly meandering three chords repeated across an 8-minute track. For those familiar — and honestly, who’s checking in to Barn that isn’t? — this isn’t an innately wrong-headed approach; the man plays to his sonic strengths. But for new listeners, whoever they are and however many in number they might be, this mode may present a learning curve, presenting a listening experience difficult to immediately connect with. Still, the record puts on full display the range of Young’s talents as an artist, with the occasional ripping guitar fills from Crazy Horse adding supplementary texture and character.
If there aren’t a lot of surprises to be found around the corners of Barn, at this point in Neil’s career, it’s not exactly an apocalyptic development. According to the demands of sheer longevity alone, it can be hard to connect with an audience when you’ve been making music for over half of a century, but Young regularly manages this feat, proving it again on his latest to a devoted fanbase. That he does so while also imbuing this record with a distinctive, impeccable vibe is especially impressive, even despite its valleys. If Barn isn’t saying or doing much that Neil hasn’t said and done before, it still lands with considerably more of an impact than your typical late-career album, and despite lacking a clear raison d’être, it’s an album that lends itself to easy relistens, its particular, pleasant languor likely to appeal for many years to come.
Published as part of Album Roundup — December 2021.