My consolation for seeing the summer come to an end is to have not only a new Bob Dylan album to appreciate — Tempest, his best since “Love and Theft” — but a fresh Neil Young release, Psychedelic Pill, coming to banish the stale aftertaste of Americana, a disc that’s already faded from memory only a few months after its appearance. Talk about a banner fall!
Since I started listening to both artists in roughly the same year — 1975, when Blood on the Tracks knocked me sideways, and I had the previous year’s On the Beach and the new Tonight’s the Night and Zuma to obsess over all all in a batch — I’m struck by the difference in the way each man has aged. Dylan, 71, is only about five years older than Neil Young, but for the past two decades his voice has gone from craggy to croaking. Young sounds older, but not in the same way. From Neil Young and Everybody Knows This is Nowhere to Americana, Young’s alley cat yowl is instantly recognizable. Play Tempest after Blood on the Tracks — or even Oh Mercy — for someone untutored in His Bobness and try to get him to believe he’s hearing the same guy.
So what has Neil Young been doing that Bob Dylan hasn’t? Since Young acknowledged in his recent New York Times interview that he’s only just sworn off marijuana, while Dylan has been a heavy cigarette smoker much of his life, maybe this is another argument for legalizing pot. Is there any evidence for dope being easier on the vocal chords than tobacco? Inquiring minds want to know.