Sound — 8
Neil Young's current album Chrome Dreams II is classic Young with folk musings reminiscent of his hit songs Harvest Moon and his rock anthem Rockin' In The Free World, equalized by a modern Young that has found rejuvenation in gospel choirs and bluesy organ reels. Produced by Young and Niko Bolas, Chrome Dreams II features Ralph Molina from Young's former band Crazy Horse on drums and Ben Keith on pedal steel, lap slide, and dobro. The country-folk mists on tracks like Beautiful Bluebird, No Hidden Path, and Ever After have a classic folk stylizing with Young's signature vocal inflections and Americana parameters. His speedy banjo pickings on Boxcar give the song an upbeat bluegrass perkiness while the sedate harmonies on Shining Light have a soft-pop coloring. The coasting island-spruced rhythms on The Believer are attractive while working in unison with the gospel-tinted vocal harmonies and bluesy organ under layers. The country rock trampolines of Spirit Road is sheathed in sporadic cymbal strikes that create waves of excellent shattering vibrations while the excited horns and keyboard series on Ordinary People thicken the sonic folk-rock sensibilities. The blend of hard rock and country on Dirty Old Man is reflective of Young's classic rock tune Rockin' In The Free World while the softly whipped piano segments on The Way are unlike anything from Young. It's contemporary and gives his folk musings a sophistication that he has denied in the past. Young plays banjo, harmonica, grand piano, and electric and acoustic guitars on these tracks. The songs are what you would expect from Young, and some that will really surprise you.
Lyrics — 7
Young never really changed his style of writing lyrics since his 1969 hit song Cinnamon Girl. Whatever impressions and observations pop into his head end up coming out of his mouth. Nothing is contrived. Young does not put his lyrics through a filtering system to make them politically correct. He calls it like he sees it, like in the song Ordinary People which documents the final stage of someone who has to face up to his/her wrongful acts while fighting for the people. It's while standing on the cusp of a precipice that Young finds intriguing. This album, in particular, blurs the line between right and wrong. A lot of the lyrics express confusion like in Boxcar when Young espouses, I'm like an eagle/I like to fly high/I'm like a snake/I like to lay low/I'm like a black man/I'm like a white man/Maybe a red man, I don't know. The words spin you around in a circle as Young purges himself of his feelings.
Overall Impression — 8
It's an album that fans of Neil Young will find valuable while attracting others who like the group vocals and bluesy piano elements. He does not stray far from his country folk roots, but intersperses them with moments of horns and organs which greatly expands his repertoire and gives him more versatility as a musician.