One of the results of 9/11 (we've been told) is a return to the values of yesteryear: decade-old sitcoms, meatloaf and stews, casual sex. So maybe recording Are You Passionate? with Booker T. and the MG's is Neil Young's comfort food, a return to his roots for a musician whose first band was the Mynah Birds (alongside Rick James!).
Centering on family relationships, songs such as "You're My Girl," "When I Hold You in My Arms" and "Be With You" have a home-and-hearth warmth and familiarity, and driven by the sharp rhythm section of Duck Dunn and Smokey Potts, the songs don't stray too far from standard chord changes. What keeps them from falling into bar-band familiarity is Young's always-commanding guitar playing. The contrast between his legato, imploring leads and the band's staccato rhythm give the songs a melancholy soul.
But Young is so much a contrarian that he insists on giving both sides of an argument. "Two Old Friends" comes to the realization that nostalgia is not the answer, and "Goin' Home" is the latest in Young's long line of dystopian historical panoramas. The only song on the album recorded with Crazy Horse, "Goin' Home" has a thundering sprawl -- in marked contrast to the rest of the album's crisp performances -- which, combined with the lyrics' imagery of Custer and urban battlegrounds, puts it in the company of "Like a Hurricane" and "Revolution Blues." And it's a more effective rendering of the post-9/11 mood than "Let's Roll," which confronts the attacks directly.
Recorded weeks after the attacks, "Let's Roll" has a lumbering riff and palpable anger that made emotional sense at the time but now feels as careworn and dated as a flag flying from a car window. If Young wanted to include something from that time, his beautifully modulated cover of "Imagine" would have better fit the mood of Are You Passionate?
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