Harvest Moon (Reprise)
Neil Young

By Bob Bahr

Harvest Moon, ostensibly a follow-up to singer/songwriter Neil Young's 1972 platinum album Harvest, is a simple and literate country-rock work that seems largely concerned with the mystique and importance of females. Several songs make touching cases for the resurrection of an old love affair, others praise and plead for Mother Earth. And at the tail end of Harvest Moon, the ten-minutes-plus gentle epic "Natural Beauty" unites the two with broad lyrics romanticizing nature, the Amazon, and the sacred soul of a woman.

Neil Young faces and dodges lyrical pitfalls like a daredevil, skirting sentimentality with a cold-eyed lyric in "Old King," a hoedown ode to a deceased hound dog; injecting realism via two children and the cold steel of a Harley-Davidson into the adoring, romantic "Unknown Legend;" twisting earnest politicking with an eye-opening perspective in "War of Man," which views modern battle through the innocent eyes of wild animals.

He gets it all over with the wan melodies and front porch elegance of his brand of country rock, his distinctive voice and just-unpredictable-enough phrasing forcing you to hang on every word. Young's simplicity can cut both ways though; it's tough to sit through the five-minute "One of These Days" and here the title repeated 16 times. In contrast, the 13 lines of the poignant "Such a Woman" are all the words needed to power this love song.

The order of the songs on Harvest Moon heighten the effect, with light following heavy, romance following political discourse, playful following brooding. This is a low-key album powered by acoustic guitar and heavily dependent on ballads, yet Young shows that he's explored this ground long enough to find varying terrain. There is a considerable difference between the upbeat, slow shuffle of "Harvest Moon" (which should and could become a hit), and the ballad that precedes it, the quiet folk of "You and Me," the one cut that truly sounds like an outtake from 1972's Harvest.

For Harvest Moon, Young reunites one of his bands from the early '70s, the Stray Gators. Their updated lineup (Young, Kenny Buttrey, Tim Drummond, Ben Keith, Spooner Oldham) plays like they've never been apart, with crisp, uncluttered music perfectly fitting Young's vision. Singers Linda Ronstadt and Nicolette Larson, both veterans of old Young albums, add perfect contributions, and longtime associate Jack Nitzsche arranges strings to good effect on "Such a Woman."

Always reflective, Young's wisdom has grown with each added speckle of grey on his head. Harvest Moon has the rural common sense one would get from that red, 100-year-old barn in the far field, if the weathered building could talk. It's not party music, and it's not perfect ("Dreamin' Man," "One of These Days," and the throwaway "Old King" make sure of this, achieving goodness rather than greatness), but Harvest Moon succeeds at doing what many other albums only try to do.