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Album review: Neil Young's 'Fork in the Road'

April 6, 2009 |  6:15 pm

Nyoungfork240_ "There's a bailout coming, but it's not for you," Neil Young laments in the title track from "Fork in the Road," a crackling travelogue that in some ways could be viewed as his version of Twitter. This in-the-moment dispatch from the mercurial rocker was clearly inspired by his LincVolt project, in which he's converting a gas-guzzling 1959 Lincoln Continental to run on electricity.

Much like Young's 2006 "Living With War" album, which he assembled in startlingly short order, "Fork in the Road" feels like the outcome of midnight-oil writing and recording sessions by a man on a mission. Among the titles: "Off the Road," "Hit the Road," "Get Behind the Wheel." You get the idea.

The album is part public service announcement, part condemnation of the status quo and part reflection of the risks and rewards of letting go of ideas when their time has passed. The outcome is more noteworthy for Young's stinging guitar work, passionate vocals and his powerhouse band's accompaniment than for finely crafted songs that add considerably to Young's estimable body of work.

To some extent, the lyrics simply establish a framework for the musical excursions, which are mostly Young's signature brand of grinding rock. Along the way, the music picks up bits of funk and blues boogie. The most poignant number is "Light a Candle," for which Young briefly unplugs to sing sweetly about the possibility of inner transformation.

On the majestic minor-key "Just Singing a Song," Young concedes that "just singing a song won't change the world," echoing a remark he made several years ago that substantive social and political change will have to come from someplace other than rock music -- contrary to what he and many of his '60s brethren once thought.

But he adds an inspirational P.S. to that sentiment: "You can sing about change while you're making your own," which in his case is Young's effort to show Detroit that at least one old dog is capable of a new trick or two.

That's the creed he's living out on this album. In the John Lee Hooker-worthy title tune, you can almost see that wry half-smile of his as he suggests that listeners "keep on blogging till the power goes out, and your battery's dead."

-- Randy Lewis

Neil Young
"Fork in the Road"
Reprise
Two and a half stars

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