Storytone, Neil Young’s latest foray in the work of recorded music, consists of 10 songs recorded twice. Firstly, as minimal acoustic versions with Young singing with piano or guitar and secondly, as full-production versions recorded live with a 92 piece orchestra and choir, and a big band ensemble.
Young’s plaintive voice, as distinct as a prairie whisper, adds an unusual depth to the acoustic renditions of these songs. The simplicity of the delivery and the sparse accompaniment add gravitas to his thoughts about the environment, growing old, and the power of human connection.
The big versions don’t fare so well. Though these pieces were recorded live from the floor according to the notes, the sound is distant and feels unconnected to the material. The orchestra arrangements don’t excite or add depth to the songs; they’re more intrusive rather than supportive of the melodies. The band versions sound authentic and at least drive with moderate energy though again the arrangements could have added more to the material.
Long-time fans will be drawn to the acoustic versions, finding familiar territory and delivery. New fans may be interested in the accessible ‘big’ songs which are a departure from Young’s edgier Crazy Horse material of the past few.
Consider: both versions of I Want to Drive My Car and Say Hello to Chicago, and the acoustic versions of Plastic Flowers and When I Watch You Sleeping.