| 0.5°C Dublin

Neil Young's story of love and heartache

Neil Young married Pegi in 1978. Earlier this year, he filed for divorce.

Next month Neil will celebrate his 69th birthday.

He's still he real deal, a big deal, and remains a powerful, influential artistic presence on the world stage. In striving to keep things fresh, he often deliberately falls out of step with the music industry.

From earlier this year, A Letter Home, was a collection of other people's songs recorded in Jack White's vintage fairground vinyl recording booth.

This time Young records with a 92-piece orchestra. And, on some songs, a big swing band. To further complicate matters on this release, he includes his own acoustic versions of the 10 songs. So you have options.

I mentioned the divorce above gives some context.

But romantic concerns are not Young's only concern. The threat to earth's eco-system continues to demand attention.

The first single, Who's Gonna Stand Up, is given a Hollywood flavour and, with added choir, sounds predictable and a bit of a mish-mash.

"Who's gonna stand up and save the earth?" queries Young. "Who's gonna take on the big machine? It all starts with you and me."

Of the few tracks with the big band, Say Hello To Chicago works best with Young rolling easily with the Rat Pack treatment. You can probably expect Jools Holland to have a crack at this for his annual Hootenanny show.


Restrained orchestration, with woodwinds and sweeping glissandi, catches Tumbleweed's sense of yearning.

In danger of cracking, Young's voice oozes emotion. "We can pick up sticks and build again. That's what we do…" he croaks.

Since before his 1970 hit Only Love Can Break Your Heart, Young has been adept at conveying love's double-edged power. Here, it's on the redemptive I'm Glad I Found You that he does what he does best, show a frail vulnerability as he struggles to convince himself that everything will be alright.

"It's not that it's any better or worse," he philosophises. "The way Life treats us is a blessing and a curse."

Novel though the orchestra versions are, Young's audio-verite deliveries, accompanied by gentle guitar and harmonica or piano, sound more compelling. The aching When I Watch You Sleeping works well in either version, possibly because the strings are restrained.

Either way, this double album is a bonus for fans.