1. The Painter 2. No Wonder 3. Falling Off the Face of the Earth 4. Far From Home
5. It's A Dream 6. Prairie Wind 7. Here For You 8. This Old Guitar 9. He Was the King
10. When God Made Me
Label: Reprise/Wea / Release Date: 9/27/2005
Prairie Wind is arguably the best Neil Young release in over a decade. It's a throwback to the mellow, country-rock style of his classic Harvest and Harvest Moon albums from the 1970's and could actually be considered the third part of a Harvest trilogy because of their similarities. Overall, the images that he paints on this disc are much darker than on the aforementioned albums, possibly due to some of the disturbing events that have shaken Young's life during the past year. He suffered a brain aneurysm from which he fully recovered and also had to deal with the loss of his beloved father. His new songs were obviously shaped around these events and primarily focus on the sentimentality of life and family.
The album was recorded in Nashville with a group of seasoned musicians including keyboardist Spooner Oldham, an alumni of the Muscle Shoals studio bands of the 1960s. The overall sound is pleasant and warm, heightening the strength of Young's mellow and introspective songwriting. Throughout the course of his lengthy career, Young has dabbled in a vast array of musical styles, from hard rock to grunge to rockabilly to synth, but he has always returned to (and seems very comfortable with) his trademark acoustic-laden, country-rock sound.
The disc starts off with "The Painter," a hauntingly sentimental piece in which Young celebrates musicians and how they attain eternal life through their music. There are heart-rending personal statements from Young on tunes like "Far From Home," an infectious rockabilly tune that finds him reflecting on his family life and all the wonderful memories of his childhood, and "Here For You," a moving piece written as a tribute to his children. Another highlight is "This Old Guitar," a tune in which Young reminisces about all the good times and the joy that he shared with his faithful, trusty guitar and how in the end, it will outlive him "Ain't mine to keep, just takin' care of it now." The album's centerpiece is the surreal "It's A Dream," which paints the image of an old man watching a train pull away as it vanishes into the distance "It's a dream. It's only a dream, and it's fading now, fading away . . . just a memory without anywhere to stay." It's evident that Young's near-death experience and the loss of his father were significant factors contributing to the reflective mood of the songs on this album. Along with his contemplative material, Young also added a lighthearted number, the silly, but enjoyable "He Was The King," a rousing, rockabilly, toe-tapping tribute to the late Elvis Presley.
Prairie Wind contains some of Neil Young's finest material, which focuses mainly on the importance of family and friends and how you should cherish life and all the memories that it brings. The album's warm and sentimental atmosphere lends itself to some very enjoyable listening, and also serves as a reminder that life is a very special journey that should not be taken for granted.