Harvest Moon

Harvest Moon

One way to hear Harvest Moon is as an echo of 1972’s Harvest—a leap made easier by the fact that many of the same musicians played on both. But Harvest was made by a recently divorced 26-year-old still negotiating his creative path, and Harvest Moon by a multiplatinum legend who’d secured the privilege of doing more or less whatever he wanted. The same person, maybe, but separated by a Rubicon of experience. So, while the feel of the albums is similar—gentle, plaintive, romantic—the experience is different: one, a catalog of romance according to youth, and the other according to the reflections of middle age. The poignancy isn’t just in the latter album’s tenderness—the string sections, the country lilt, the pedal steel guitar—but in the way that Young slips between past and present: how a memory of then becomes a vision of now (“Unknown Legend”), how circular time stirs feelings we think we’ve forgotten (“Harvest Moon”). The effect is like looking at a hologram, or a trick image that changes when you tilt the card back and forth: The object is fixed, but what you see in it flickers—and both feel equally real. The album’s most touching moment is on “Old King,” where, in the course of eulogizing a beloved dog, Young mentions having kicked him when he was bad: a moment of violence neutralized by time and made strangely beautiful by the fact that Young knows it won’t ever happen again. The connection to Harvest is explicit, but the album also fits in a set of what you could call Gentle Neil: Comes a Time, Old Ways, Prairie Wind, Homegrown. At the time, Young was coming off some of the noisiest, most radical shows of Crazy Horse’s career (captured on Weld) and had been recast as the progenitor of a generation of underground bands like Nirvana and Sonic Youth—a distinction you couldn’t quite give to David Crosby, all due respect. It must’ve been nice, being on the edge of 50 and lionized by people half your age. But, being Neil Young, he did what Neil Young does: change, again.

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