Like your favorite flannel shirt, Neil Young improves with wear and tear. But like that same old shirt, he's a bit threadbare in spots. It's the same with Young's engaging new album Silver & Gold, a low-key, scattershot collection of folk-rock songs written and recorded over three years but mostly reminiscent—for better, and for worse—of his melodic but slightly bland 1972 classic Harvest. Through four decades, Young, 54, has stuck to his guns, delivering his deceptively simple songs in a sweet, wavering high voice, regardless of current fashion. This CD is no exception. Young originally conceived this album as his simplest yet—an unplugged set in which he would play all the instruments. Then he decided to add backing musicians for a few songs. Meanwhile, last year's Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young reunion album, Looking Forward, siphoned off some of the songs from this project. What's left is a grab bag that provides an appealing, if sometimes contradictory, portrait of the artist as an older man. "Red Sun" is a glistening raindrop of a country-rock tune. But others, like "Buffalo Springfield Again," a plodding look at the band that propelled him to stardom in the 1960s, sound downright dopey. Still, anyone who has enjoyed even one of Young's wonderfully careworn songs knows that risk-taking is part of his creative process, even if it sometimes makes him seem a bit foolish.
Bottom Line: Consistent folk rocker in all his ragged glory