It's become a pop music cliche. Baby Boom-era musicians who can't persuade old fans to buy their new music record an album of songs from their youth to lure back their equally nostalgic audience.
Rod Stewart, Barry Manilow, Rickie Lee Jones and Paul McCartney are just a few of the acts that have done it with varying degrees of success.
Leave it to Neil Young to turn the sellout middle-of-the-road move into another detour toward the ditch.
Young dips into the songs of his youth on his new album ''Americana,'' but these aren't the singles that he heard on the radio growing up in Canada; most are ones he probably sang in elementary school classrooms.
We're talking ''Oh Susannah,'' ''My Darling Clementine,'' ''This Land Is Your Land'' and ''Jesus' Chariot'' (which is better known as ''She'll Be Comin' 'Round the Mountain''), in many cases accompanied by a children's choir contributing backing vocals.
I love the Shocking Pinks, the Bluenotes and many of Young's ditch dives (I even have a soft spot for ''Trans'' since that tour was the first time I saw Young live), but I thought this sounded unlistenable when news of the project leaked months ago.
But that children's choir isn't as important as Young's other collaborator here - Crazy Horse. The raucous, sloppy trio of Frank ''Poncho'' Sampedro, Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina bring out the best in rocker Neil. And for fans of rocker Neil - 20-minute ''Cortez the Killer,'' side two of ''Rust Never
Sleeps'' Neil - ''Americana'' is closer to that sound than most fans had any right to expect from the 66 year-old musician.
Admittedly, the disc is hit-or-miss in spots. ''This Land Is Your Land'' is straightforward and dull and too long at more than five minutes (track down Sharon Jones & Dap Kings' version to hear a much more inventive reworking of this Woody Guthrie standard). The Silhouettes' ''Get a Job'' feels out of place, like a Shocking Pinks' outtake that was thrown on here to pad out the disc. And while there's something vaguely anarchistic about the fuzzed-out electric guitar interwoven with the cherubic choir on the finale ''God Save the Queen,'' I'll probably skip it when listening to the album.
But when Young gets back on the Horse, it's less about the song and more about the groove they settle into with Neil, Pancho and Billy forming their electric prayer circle in the center of the stage and Ralph pounding away behind them. ''Powderfinger'' or ''Cortez'' would sound perfect sandwiched between the arrangements of ''My Darling Clementine,'' ''Tom Dule'' or ''Jesus Chariot'' on ''Americana.''
It should make for an interesting show when Neil Young and Crazy Horse play Cleveland's Wolstein Center on Oct. 8 and Pittsburgh's Petersen Events Center on Oct. 9 (tickets for both shows go on sale Friday). Will Young play ''Americana'' in its entirety (maybe recruiting a children's choir in each city) and then let the Horse run free on a few greatest hits? Or will he weave those songs from a century or more ago with his own creations, cementing the idea that, ''It's all one song,'' as he says on ''Year of the Horse''?
Then again, four months is an eternity in Neil time. He may be onto something else entirely by fall. But it should be fun finding out.
Andy Gray is the entertainment writer for the Tribune Chronicle. Write to him at grayareas@