Young updates old message

Todd Lazarski

Building an epic tale around the fictitious Green family in imaginary Greendale, Calif., Young crafts an intricately woven storyline throughout each tune on the album. Using simple country-folk dialect and the cadence of a story-teller, Young sounds like a weathered, wise man, emotionally relating tales of lives lived and lost, of dreams squandered and hopes dashed.

Young’s voice sounds as only his can — cranky and cautionary while at the same time genuine and sincere. Each song is an emotionally charged narrative, relating poetically the struggles of the Green family to make sense of the mixed-up world around it.

Backup band Crazy Horse sounds subtler than on previous albums such as the distortion-charged Ragged Glory, yet each song maintains that same dirty, raw, rocking sound, while Young’s simple, sometimes sloppy, guitar chops give the album an immensely authentic feel.

Although all songs aim to serve the theme of the album as a whole, there is no lack of free-standing, individual masterpieces. From the funky, dirty blues of “Double E,” to the cautionary “Leave the Driving,” to the sorrowful, depressing “Carmichael,” Young’s storytelling — combined with the band’s chunky grooves — make for a truly remarkable “rock novel.”

Perhaps the most noteworthy of Greendale’s songs is the hopeful “Bandit,” which conjures up the acoustic optimism of Young’s masterpiece After the Gold Rush. Here, Young’s delicate guitar work and melancholic whispering beautifully portray a haggard old man, full of faith and hope for a better future, despite the looming shadow of adversity.

All of the “Greendale” songs build their message stemming from Young’s simple hippie ideals: Peace, love and compassion can save the world in a time of dire straits. “A little love and affection in everything you do/Will make the world a better place, with or without you,” Young sings on the declaratory “Falling From Above.” Here Young drives home the album’s fundamental solution for living in troubled times: You can save the planet by doing the right thing.

The course of the album proves that Young still has a relevant voice — and plenty to say.

Grade: AB