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It's inevitable that any new CD by Neil Young will be compared to an earlier work from his extensive career. Like Bob Dylan, Young is a cyclical, deeply personal artist whose works frequently fit into one of two or three opposing musical styles. Critics and the record company have been comparing Silver & Gold, a soothing, contemplative, almost totally acoustic batch of songs (some nearly 20 years old) to Harvest and its more recent follow-up, Harvest Moon. Young himself says in the May issue of Mojo that the album reminds him of After the Goldrush because of its personal nature.

But while After the Goldrush and Harvest were both dark, pessimistic works of an angry young man, Silver & Gold has the stoic voice of an old man who, after having taken a look at his stormy, extraordinary life, realizes he doesn't have a whole lot to complain about. Love is the main theme here, and not lost love either, unless you consider the case of the man in "Red Sun" (featuring Celtic touches and perfectly understated vocals by Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt) who reassures his dying love that she'll always be first in his heart. The traveler in the CD's sprightly, pedal steel-driven opener, "Good To See You," has no fear that his love will leave him. Instead, he's come home to find her right there waiting: "I'm the suitcase in your hallway/I'm the footsteps on your floor/When I'm looking down on you/I feel like I know what my life is for."

Deep stuff it ain't. But it's about as full of pure, uncontrived emotion as any love song you'll find.

Even Young's first band gets a love letter in the CD's loping first single, "Buffalo Springfield Again" in which Young sings simply that he'd like to "see those guys again and give it a shot." That's understandable considering the band's heightened profile following the sample of its signature song, "For What It's Worth" in Public Enemy's "He Got Game," but pretty strange considering the number of times Young quit and rejoined the band. But then, love songs rarely make sense.

In the pantheon of Neil Young works, Silver & Gold is not an outstanding work, mainly because it lacks the immediacy, the challenge and the wit of the albums to which it is being compared. But it is a consistently good, warm-feeling CD that's perfect for when you're sitting alone thinking about how your life really isn't as bad as you sometimes make it out to be.


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