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Neil Young's 'Ragged Glory' Touches on Faded Ideals : **** NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE "Ragged Glory" Reprise : Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to five (a classic). :

September 16, 1990|ROBERT HILBURN

Young's "Freedom" was arguably the most compelling album of 1989 and certainly the artist's personal best in more than a decade, but one element was missing for many longtime Young admirers: the searing, guitar-driven exorcisms that have punctuated some of the veteran rocker's most exquisite works over the years.

As if in compensation, Young returns with a collection that employs the force of the guitar to both energize the songs and also to serve as a symbol of the independence and power of rock's classic values.

Reuniting with the tenacious Crazy Horse trio (guitarist Frank Sampedro, drummer Ralph Molina and bassist Billy Talbot), Young doesn't, however, just rely on sonic intensity.

While not as overtly topical as the politically based "Freedom," the themes this time are every bit as absorbing as Young explores questions of faded ideals and, indeed, the ragged glory of rock itself as the music moves into the '90s.

In some ways, the album may seem on first listening to be too much a statement addressed to Young's own generation. There's a strong trace of '60s nostalgia in such tunes as "Country Home" and, especially, "Days That Used to Be." But it's not just for rock 'n' roll old folks.

If Young asks his contemporaries to take inventory in "Days . . . ," he also warns fans his children's age that they too have choices to make. Sample lines: "Seems like such a simple thing / To follow one's own dreams. / But possessions and concessions / Are not often what they seem."

Elsewhere, Young touches on matters ranging from relationships to the environment, but "Ragged Glory" isn't all cerebral. There are moments of humor (a remake of the goofy oldie "Farmer John") and outbursts of frustration that give the album an especially warm, human edge.

After a decade of uneven albums from Young, it was hard to take "Freedom" as anything more than perhaps a momentary return to brilliance. But it now looks as if that album signaled a welcome renaissance.

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