Set aside the bad memories of Neil Young's misconceived parable GREENDALE (2004): Young returns to the screen in peak form in Jonathan Demme's warm and surprisingly intimate concert film, shot at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry. On August 19, 2005, Young picked up the scratched acoustic guitar that once belonged to none other than Hank Williams and took the legendary Ryman stage to debut music from his latest album, Prairie Wind, written and largely recorded shortly after Young was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm. Not surprisingly, the album's songs have an elegiac, retrospective feel: recollections of Young's Winnipeg childhood ("Far from Home") and of his late father ("Prairie Wind") are interspersed with memories of a much-loved dog ("He Was the King") and a daughter's departure for college ("Here for You"). They're also often tinged with a sense of hard-won wisdom and regret; "The Painter," Young's backward glance at friends lost along the way and the album's stand-out track, contains the remarkable warning, "If you follow every dream, you might get lost." Demme, simply one of the best concert-film directors around, and cinematographer Ellen Kuras capture Young and a group of his musician friends — including Emmylou Harris, the Nashville String Machine and members of the Fisk University Jubilee Singers — as they tear through all 10 of Prairie Wind's tracks. Despite rousing performances (legendary steel-guitarist Ben Keith was in particularly fine form that night), not every one's a winner: Young's tribute to Hank's old six-string ("This Old Guitar") contains one of Young's clunkiest lyrics yet ("When I get drunk and seeing double/It jumps behind the wheel and steers") and while heartfelt, "He Was the King," a guitar duet with Harris that features Young sniffing into his mike like his long-lost pooch, is downright silly. Such moments pale even further compared to the material that follows, much of it drawn mostly from Young's 1972 masterpiece, Harvest. To be fair, any songwriter's would: "Old Man," "The Needle and the Damage Done" and "Heart of Gold" still sound as fresh and vital as they did all those years ago. A bracing cover of Ian Tyson's "Four Strong Winds," performed by no fewer than seven acoustic guitars, rounds out the set, but be sure to stick around for the credits. Young, alone onstage in front of the now-empty auditorium, runs through a spectacular version of one of his earliest solo tracks, "The Old Laughing Lady."
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- Released: 2005
- Rating: PG
- Review: Set aside the bad memories of Neil Young's misconceived parable GREENDALE (2004): Young returns to the screen in peak form in Jonathan Demme's warm and surprisingly intimate concert film, shot at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand… (more)