On "Americana," Young frees himself from the constraints of original material, focusing instead on the textures and raw, adrenal possibilities of his greatest band, Crazy Horse, and a fistful of American folk standards.

Neil Young

Complain all you want that Neil Young—easily one of the 10 greatest songwriters of the rock ’n’ roll era—hasn’t written a classic album in years. But to define late-model Young via the recorded output of the last decade is to ignore guitar and vocal performances as incendiary, confrontational, and irreverent as ever. On Americana, Young frees himself from the constraints of original material, focusing instead on the textures and raw, adrenal possibilities of his greatest band, Crazy Horse, and a fistful of American folk standards. Like so much that Young does, the concept borders on the perverse, which is precisely why it’s such a kick in the ass.

Those looking for technical sorcery and smooth production need not read further. This is Neil and the Horse at their crustiest. But it’s more than Neil’s production nihilism and antipathy toward slickness that makes this record remarkable. Young and Co. approach and reinterpret these songs with arrangements that are often revelations. Take the schoolhouse classic, “Oh Susannah,” which becomes a funky and chugging minor-key stomp rivaling the barbarism of Neil’s old ’66 Sunset Strip, fuzz-punk compatriots The Seeds. The miner tragedy, “Clementine,” is pervaded with darkness and desperation that conjures images of the protagonist as a grimy mechanic mourning the drowning of his love—“Down by the River” revisited, perhaps? Meanwhile, the classic Carolina murder ballad of Tom Dula (aka “Tom Dooley”)—blunted in the popular imagination by the Kingston Trio’s polite banjo version—is rendered tragic, brutal, and menacing on the back of Young’s wailing Deluxe and the zombie march rhythms of Crazy Horse.

The Silhouettes’ “Get a Job” provides a touch of party relief amid the dark balladry in this selection of American greats. It’s a treat to hear drummer Ralph Molina and bassist Billy Talbot revisit their New York doo-wop roots: It’s a fascinating insight into the odd stew that made Crazy Horse among the most singular and quirky garage bands of all time.

“Wayfarin’ Stranger” is Neil at his most alone, save for Molina’s brushes-hi-hat-andsnare accompaniment to Young’s plaintive strumming. But none of the cuts sum up the twisted glory of Americana quite like “She’ll Be Comin’ ’Round the Mountain,” sung and played with such sinister, slashing undertones that you’re left confused about whether to run in terror from the girl rounding the bend or warn her about the pitchfork mob waiting at the station. Neil may pen a classic less frequently these days, but his penchant for finding the mystery and dark corners in any song still lends his work a restless vitality. —Charles Saufley

Must-hear tracks: “Oh Susannah,” “She’ll Be Comin’ ’Round the Mountain”

On Black Midi's Cavalcade, Geordie Greep’s fretwork is an example of the 6-string as a capable component as much as a solo instrument, never completely stealing the show.

Popular music and mainstream tastes may be more fractured than ever, but the guitar continues to thrive.

As we soft launch into the new year, I’m not waiting for the requisite guitar obituary in the news. It’s not going to happen again anytime soon. Why? Because as far as the mainstream media is concerned, our beloved instrument is not only dead, it's irrelevant to the point of not even being an afterthought. When the New York Times published their most recent albums of the year list, there was barely a guitar-based recording to be found. Still, there is not only hope, but also cause for jubilation.

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Diatonic sequences are powerful tools. Here’s how to use them wisely.



• Understand how to map out the neck in seven positions.
• Learn to combine legato and picking to create long phrases.
• Develop a smooth attack—even at high speeds.

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Knowing how to function in different keys is crucial to improvising in any context. One path to fretboard mastery is learning how to move through positions across the neck. Even something as simple as a three-note-per-string major scale can offer loads of options when it’s time to step up and rip. I’m going to outline seven technical sequences, each one focusing on a position of a diatonic major scale. This should provide a fun workout for the fingers and hopefully inspire a few licks of your own.
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