Neil Young’s upcoming Chrome Dreams II is a masterpiece of epic songs and bracing guitar work-outs that just might prompt listeners to check out another Young release: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. That album, 36 years old and sounding like it could have been recorded yesterday, was a landmark in primal rock minimalism.  Its hypnotically grinding grooves, stinging guitar solos that rode on sheets of feedback, and wounded vocals that seemed to be wrenched from Young’s inner soul launched a thousand grunge two decades after it first appeared. When it was issued in 1969, the general consensus was unanimous: Neil had blown everybody’s mind.  Nearly four decades have done little to dampen that effect.  

Perhaps even more astonishing is the realization that Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere made its appearance only months after Young's first solo album introduced him as an intriguing, sensitive balladeer in the James Taylor mode. For him to do a complete 180 and follow it with a corrosive electric album featuring another L.A band, Crazy Horse-three members of a band called The Rockets before Young effectively broke them up-was the last thing anyone would have predicted.  Since then, the only thing predictable about Neil Young would be his unpredictability.

On his debut album, Young sounded tentative and retrained, as if he were guest on his own record.  The songs were over-arranged; the mood arid.  Everybody Knows…is that album’s antidote.  Young hooked up with Crazy Horse (guitarist Danny Whitten, bassist Billy Talbot, and drummer Ralph Molina) and jammed for just shy of three weeks before producer David Briggs rolled tape.   The music is ragged, desperate, feral.  “Cinnamon Girl,” “Down by the River,” and “Cowgirl in the Sand” were written while Young was in the throes of a 103-degree fever, and whether it was anguish or delirium he was experiencing, Crazy Horse respond in kind, delivering performances that are urgent, intuitive, and exploding with unchecked emotion.

Among the quieter moments, there is the achingly beautiful “Losing End” in which Young introduces his  cracked, forlorn style of country singing, and the mournful “Round and Round,”  which features backing vocals and fine fiddle-playing from Robin Lane, Young's girlfriend at the time.  Both songs would have a lasting impact on artists as disparate as the Eagles and Eddie Vedder. 

Whenever Neil Young wants real human spirit and a solid wall of electric sound, he invariably turns to whatever splinters of Crazy Horse he can grab.  Chrome Dreams II features Young backed by a band consisting of Ralph Molina, along with Ben Keith and Rick Rosas.  The four make a fearless, fulsome racket.  Two epics with cauterizing guitar jams-“Ordinary People,” clocking in at 18-plus minutes, and “No Hidden Path” which is a brisk 14-qualify this as a sequel of sorts to that 36-year-old album, and strangely, to another record, one finished over 30 years ago but never released.  It was called Chrome Dreams and included the original version of “Like a Hurricane.”  Now, if Young truly wanted to be unpredictable, he’d open the vault and let that one out.