Released in February of 1972, Neil Young's fourth album, Harvest, produced the singer's only No. 1 song—"Heart of Gold"—and went on to become the best-selling record of that lingering-end-of-the-'60s year. The Nashville-tinged folkie sweetness of the album's sound was hugely influential, but the soulful, melancholy intensity of Young's song-writing was impossible to ropy. Young himself veered off from the mainstream and went on to make a series of wild, eccentric proto-punk albums (Zuma, American Stars 'n Bars, Rust Never Sleeps) that made him a father figure to the current wave of flannel-shirted grunge-rockers. His recent releases, including a CD featuring 35 minutes of uninterrupted feedback noise, prove that it's possible to grow old without losing your edge.
Years too late for him to be accused of cashing in on the success of his only Top 10 hit, the 47-year-old singer has temporarily retired his electric guitar and recorded a follow-up to Harvest. Like its predecessor, Harvest Moon is brilliant, touching and uneven. Along with generational sagas ("Unknown Legend," "From Hank to Hendrix") there are two haunting ecological laments ("War of Man" and "Natural Beauty") and a wry tribute to a deceased hound ("Old King"). The title track, in particular, is something special. History may not repeat itself, but "Harvest Moon," a winsome and nearly perfect paean to enduring romance, deserves to be a hit. (Reprise)