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By David Werther.

Neil Young, Prairie Wind (Prairie Wind Reprise Records, 2005).

           On June 12, 2005, Canada lost one of its great sportswriters. A few days earlier Canada almost lost its best known songwriter. In fact, the two writers were father and son. Scott Young died shortly after his more famous son Neil suffered a brain aneurysm, and subsequently wrote and recorded Prairie Wind "for Daddy."

           Prairie Wind  finds Young with some of the Nashville musicians he worked with on Harvest, Comes a Time, and Harvest Moon, and so the sound is quite similar. No need for caveat auditor as there is with some of Young's electric work (cf. Arc Weld). Young wrote and recorded some songs, took a break for surgery preparation, completed the rest of the album, and then underwent brain surgery. Given this context it is not surprising that time and mortality are key themes. Young remembers when "the [migrating] birds blocked out the sun ("No Wonder"), rockin' on my Daddy's knee ("Far From Home"), and friends that are gone—"'I have my friends eternally'" ("The Painter").

           The album has a wistful and autumnal feel.
   "The Red River still flows through my hometown
    Rollin' and tumblin' on its way
    Swirling around the old bridge pilings
    Where a boy fishes the morning away
    His bicycle leans on a tree
    . . . .
    It's a dream
    It's only a dream
    And it's fading now
    Fading away."
    ("It's a Dream")
This autumnal spell is broken in the penultimate song where Young unwinds and rocks, appropriately enough, in his tribute to "the king" —

   "The last time I saw Elvis
   He was shootin' at a color TV
   The phones were ringing at the pink hotel
   And the rest is history
   He was the king."
   ("He was the King")

           The juxtaposition of "He Was the King" with the final song "When God Made Me" is interesting. Young shifts from Elvis "singing a gospel song" to what might be best classified a contemporary psalm. "When God Made Me" sounds like a hymn but contains the sorts of questions that we find in the Psalter. Among other things, Young asks about the image of God ("Did He create just me in his image or every living thing?") and exclusivism ("Did He think that there was only one way to be close to him?"). As the song closes, Young asks about his role in God's creation, "Did he give me the gift of compassion to help my fellow men?" I think Young answered that question in a Time magazine interview (October 3, 2005). When asked if he felt cursed because his two sons have cerebral palsy, he responded that he and his wife Peggy came to feel that they had been chosen to help "nonverbal, physically challenged, kids."

           Prairie Wind is an ideal soundtrack for reflecting on one's roots and contemplating one's calling.

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