Album Review: Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Barn (2021)

By Sergio Ariza

The two faces of Shakey 

Barn is nothing more and nothing less than Neil Young's 41st studio album, as well as his 14th with Crazy Horse, and the second with this new line-up of his backing band, with Nils Lofgren replacing Frank 'Poncho' Sampedro. It's clear that at this point the 'Canerican' is no longer exploring new territory - but he doesn't sound tired or worn out either. This is a good collection of songs that will delight long-time fans even if it won't win him many new.

Young has had many ‘faces’ during his career, but predominantly there are two: as the Godfather of Grunge fronting Crazy Horse and as an acoustic singer-songwriter with country rock touches as in Harvest; there have been albums more electric-oriented and others more country - and there have also been those in which he has combined them to perfection. In this Barn, having Crazy Horse behind him, one would expect an album more focused on distortion, but Song Of The Seasons opens the album with a gentle calm: representing the more acoustic- and harmonica-oriented Young.


Everything changes when the thunderstorm breaks out with Heading West, the unmistakable tone of Old Black, Young's melodies and a new element, a piano, possibly played by Lofgren, who had already familiarised himself with the instrument, when he was barely playing it, on After The Gold Rush at the tender age of 19. Change Ain't Never Gonna, is a ramshackle blues, which makes it clear why the album is called what it is: these are four friends getting together in a barn, or a garage, to play a little and have a great time.

With Canerican the electric ride returns as Young speaks with pride, but also sarcasm, of his country of origin, Canada, and of adoption, the USA, now that he has both nationalities. In the solo Young and Lofgren exchange runs - with the the former being more melodic, the latter more cutting. Shape Of You starts with a funky bass by Billy Talbot and a harmonica solo (with 100% Young DNA); and again they sound loose and totally live, a fun and highly catchy chaos. Human Race is Neil Young & Crazy Horse distilled to perfection, it could have fitted easily on Zuma, the second side of Rust Never Sleeps or Ragged Glory. Whatever… it will delight lovers of his most furious and distorted side.


On Tumblin' Through The Years the country singer-songwriter of Harvest and Harvest Moon returns, with a sweet melody and lyrics dedicated to his current partner, Daryl Hannah, although lyrically I'm pretty sure he could have found a better rhyme than this, "You changed my life for the better, wore my love like your favourite sweater". On the other hand, Welcome Back is a distant cousin of Tonight's The Night, with which it shares a sombre and melancholic atmosphere; it is also the moment in which Old Black sounds at its best, once again demonstrating Young’s great expressiveness despite his limited technique. This track is possibly the high point of Barn.

In sum, this is an album that once again demonstrates that at 76 years of age Young still knows how to write good songs. It is obvious that it is not up to the level of his great classics of the 70s, but it gives long-time followers what they want: a good ration of the two sides of Shakey.