Look out, mama, there's a white boat comin' up the river. And it don't look like it's here to deliver The Globe and Mail.
Neil Young and Daniel Lanois, two former national-paper newsboys, have thrown onto our porches Le Noise, a robust clamour of spiritual ponderings and artful soundscaping. There's been a bit of a stir about this record, a sonically textured collection of eight songs performed solo by Young - no overdubs and no sidemen - but with looped vocals and diddled electronic feedback.
A lot of hoopla was instigated by the album's producer, Lanois, who got all wild-eyed chatting up the new sounds he found within an array of vintage amplifiers and Young's white, electric Gretsch Falcon. He did the same kind of hyping with U2's No Line on the Horizon, an awesome album which he also helped to craft.
And who should calm the driven Lanois's excitement? The dude knows his way around a soundboard, give him that. That being said, Lanois's success with Le Noise may be his restraint; the album is a shimmering portrait of Young, the man whose head, thoughts and voice are clear above the rumbling cloud of chromed textures. Walk with Me, Someone's Going to Rescue You, Love and War, Peaceful Valley Boulevard - this reverberating, dirty-silver sounding disc is a collection of rocked recollections and heart-and-soul sermons from a still-resonant icon.
Things start in an immediate way, with the thick, hanging chords of Walk with Me as a howdy-do - it's as if the album began without you, and you're walking into Lanois's California mansion as the recordings just got under way. "I'm on this journey," Young wails on the bluesy Mississippi chug, "I don't want to walk alone."
The Loner singer doesn't travel unaccompanied: On the grungy-but-sweet Sign of Love, companions have "silver hair and a little less time," but roses are still on the vine. The Hitchhiker is an older song, been around a few decades. It's a review of Young's history of drugs and the mind-states thereby caused.
Love and War has Young playing the wise man, stroking Spanish guitar riffs from an acoustic guitar and wistfully recalling the bad chords hit, but still resolutely singing about the defining things - love and war - of his generation.
"Shelter me from the powder and the finger," Young requested long ago. He may still be asking that on the rugged, sneering centrepiece It's an Angry World. Or he may be answering. The looped plea of "aid me, aid me, aid me" hovers over the gritty assurance that "it's an angry world and everything is going to be all right." Young is no saviour-in-the-sky guy - notice his sarcastic "no doubt everything will go as planned."
As to what happens next, stay tuned. Young's not going anywhere, and neither are we.
OTHER NEW RELEASES THIS WEEK
Good Things Aloe Blacc (Stones Throw)
Good things? I'll say. Mining the Marvin-and-Mayfield seventies soul vein to supple, fresh effect is Aloe Blacc, the thoughtful tune-maker and just-right singer who first caught our attention with the bouncy-but-gutsy hard-times petition of I Need a Dollar, commissioned by HBO for the series How to Make It in America. Helped by the same people who produced Mayer Hawthorne's excellent A Strange Arrangement from a year ago, the Californian Blacc is happening fantastically on the silk upbeat of Green Lights, while the advisory Hey Brother is tougher funk. Old-school horns, super-fly guitars and glassy vintage-era organs set the sly mood for messages shot straight. Blacc needs a dollar; you need this record. Work it out. Brad Wheeler
The Once The Once (Borealis)
Just as the sea refuses no river, the Once turns back no listeners. These three Newfoundlanders gracefully and evocatively offer gem-like maritime music - foot-stomping shanties, heart-rendering ballads, salt-aired interpretations (of Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen tunes) and a cappella three-part harmonies thicker than Mama Cass's midriff. The drinkable Geraldine Hollett is the pure-voiced starlet, riveting on the soloed Marguerite. Something singular is happening here, you bet. B.W.
The Once tours Newfoundland through Oct. 10, followed by appearances at Nova Scotia's Celtic Colours International Festival, Oct. 14 to 16.