Are You Passionate?
“Let's Roll,” Neil Young's well intentioned if somewhat plodding tribute to Todd Beamer and the other passengers of Flight 93, who attacked their hijackers on Sept. 11, was supposed to be the centerpiece of this album.
Rush-released as a single last December, it certainly earned credits for being topical, but it's not likely to go down with “Ohio” as one of Young's historic anthems.
It's also by no means reflective of the rest of the music on Are You Passionate?, which includes some of the most soulful sounds that Young's ever captured in a recording studio.
A lot of that is no doubt due to the presence of esteemed keyboardist and co-producer Booker T. Jones, who brought his mates from Booker T and The MG's along for 10 of the album's 11 songs. Their soulful approach provides the veteran songwriter with a subtle, but sparkling backdrop to work against.
That's apparent from the outset when Young launches into “You're My Girl,” a straight-out-of-the-'60s, soul-styled song about a father reluctant to see his little girl grow up. It could have been perfect for The Temptations or The Four Tops way back when, and takes Young into some wonderfully unexpected musical terrain.
He sets to soul flavors frequently here, playing against Booker T's organ and background vocals in the groove-laced “Differently” and riding Donald “Duck” Dunn's bass in the pure, Motown echoes of “Be With You.”
Instead of “Let's Roll,” it's actually the lonely and beautiful “Mr. Disappointment,” which emerges as the album's centerpiece. Young sings the deeply nostalgic saga with a gravelly, half-spoken voice, before sliding into one of his loveliest choruses in recent memory.
Young's frequent touring and recording partners Crazy Horse remain a presence in his music. Crazy Horse guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro complements the MG's throughout the set. His full band turns up on only one song, but it's a standout in Crazy Horse's classic western tradition. While evoking images of Custer's Last Stand, “Goin' Home” is not musically dissimilar to Young's earlier “Powderfinger,” but with war drums pounding for more than eight, dream-sweeping minutes.