Review Summary: Crazy Horse sounds more ancient than the folk songs they're covering.
Neil Young has been doing what he does best for a hell of a long time, and that's whatever he damn well pleases. So at this point, making more original material again for the seemingly hundredth time may ironically be a bit predictable, as he's been experimenting around for so long.
It's a clever idea that it may be more interesting to not construct originality from the ground up, but to search for original ideas and unexplored interpretations to be found within material as well known as the most traditional and timeless of folk songs dating back to the 1800's.
Here Neil takes the most classic and traditional of folk staples that are rooted as deep as can be in the cultural prime of american folklore, and emphasizes on the dark and often times disturbing verses (that Neil claims go un-analyzed by the casual hummer) through employing Crazy Horse for the first time since 2003 to give these songs the rock treatment in the type of garage-jam renditions they've done for decades.
These aren't the most interesting folk songs, and even though they may be the most influential, what comes with that deal is that they are still the most primitive, the most simple and basic, and ones that everyone has heard a million times, and simply tweaking not much else except the atmosphere and mood of these songs a bit through the gritty rock deal is too little of an adjustment from their original form to be anything really invigorating. A drastic change from the original songs like say, a metal cover such as what Korn did with their dark nursery themed song Shoots & Ladders, would make these songs interesting, or at least modern. So the experimentation end is a bit lacking, as even with the rock exterior brought by Crazy Horse, Neil Young is still at the helm, so this record has a traditionally folky heart.
What absolutely sinks this record as the main flaw however is the severely lacking performance talent of Crazy Horse. One would think that a band that has been around as long as Crazy Horse has would sound masterful at the few chords they plod away at, but instead of age benefiting them in mastery, they sound decrepit, as if the years are catching up to them and whittling away at their talent. These songs may be Jam sessions, but jam sessions are good when they are free of mistakes, which this record does not buff out. Each song plays like a lazy first take, without any sense of direction.
Putting the stock of an cover album completely into a minor change from source material is one flaw, but can be overlooked if they execution is good. Yet, the playing here is so poor, and desperately tries to cover it up with raw garage rock grime and distortion, that this album ends up feeling awkwardly clumsy, and shows more age than the folk songs themselves.