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Neil Young's 'Storytone' review: New songs, two views

"Storytone," by Neil Young. Photo Credit: AP / Reprise Records

Neil Young has spent the past four decades or so alternating between wild, ambitious progressive rock and gorgeous, stripped-down acoustic folk.

With "Storytone" (Reprise), he tries something different. Young crafted a set of 10 songs the way he usually does, with just his voice and an acoustic guitar and piano. That version of the album is powerful enough, especially in the way it seems to reveal his thoughts on the surprising end of his marriage to Pegi Young, after 36 years, this summer and the even more surprising start to his reported relationship with Daryl Hannah.

What makes "Storytone" so special, though, is that Young took the songs to another level, offering new versions where he is backed at times by a 92-piece orchestra and choir or by a big band. His vocal approaches don't change much from one version to the next, but the surroundings amplify the feelings he is trying to convey.

He sounds much more desperate in the big, bluesy version of "Like You Used To" than in the stripped-down version. The brassy horn flourishes he has to contend with make him seem even smaller and more alone. The choir that backs him up on "Who's Gonna Stand Up?" as he urges people to save Earth and "take on the big machine" creates an effective rallying cry.

By offering both versions of the "Storytone" songs, Young allows his fans to make their own decisions on what approach is best, though it's hard to go wrong with either.

THE GRADE A-

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