AUSTIN, Texas Neil Young is patting the pockets of his jeans, looking for the keys to his hotel suite.
He's eager to talk about the recording of his upcoming 29th studio album, Silver and Gold (April 25), a 10-song acoustic meditation on unlocking the secrets of true love.
The problem is, he can't unlock his door at the temporarily renamed Silver and Gold suite at the historic Western-themed Driskill hotel in downtown Austin. Behind the door are his guitars and, he says with a muted grin, a piano, just in case a creative spark moves him.
Milling around in the hallway, Young, 54, calmly shifts to plan B.
"Oh well," he says, pointing to a yellow couch in the hallway, "Let's just do it out here."
Dressed in his customary jeans, worn running shoes and black T-shirt, Young's roll-with-it attitude is in keeping with the mellow vibe of Silver and Gold, his first studio album since Broken Arrow (1996). Culled from songs the folk-rock icon has written over the past 20 years, the set is something of a spiritual sequel to Young's landmark 1970 album After the Gold Rush, which featured the dreamy title track and the Dixie-bashing "Southern Man" (RealAudio excerpt).
A Unified State Of Mind
"They're written in the same state of mind, I think, over years," Young said of the vulnerability in the lyrics to such acoustic musings as "Good to See You" and "Horseshoe Man."
"It's all unified," he said. "They all got put aside for one reason or another."
"The ones that are old that had to wait until now to come out," he continued. "It's the closest record in feel and openness to After the Gold Rush. I don't know what it is, but it's me at this point."
Young said he began compiling the album in 1997, following a headlining stint with longtime backing band Crazy Horse whom he uses for his rock tours on the H.O.R.D.E. (Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere) tour. He credited the unusually dusky, low tone of his voice on the somber album closer, "Without Rings," to the postCrazy Horse wear and tear on his vocal chords; he said the song was recorded in one take directly after he got off the road.
After recording several solo acoustic songs he'd written while on tour, Young called in an all-star band every few months to help revive archival songs and flesh out new material.
Among the players on the album are famed session drummer Jim Keltner, Booker T. and the MG's bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn and old friends Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, who provide backing vocals on the spare love song "Red Sun."
"I'd do some old songs at the same time, just for fill, so we'd have enough songs to make it worth it for everybody to come," Young said. "Sometimes I'd just throw those in just to have something to do to get warmed up with, but in this case we caught a couple of them."
Return To A Music Town
The album will be accompanied by a DVD of the same name, filmed at Austin's Bass Concert Hall during two shows on Young's 1999 solo acoustic tour. The March 17 premiere of the movie which features stark images of Young performing old material and seven of the new songs on guitar, banjo, piano and organ allowed Young to return to a town he feels appreciates good music.
"I like Austin; it's a music town," Young said during a one-day respite from the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young reunion tour. "People listen here." Young flew in to Austin to promote the 62-minute film, shot by longtime cohort L.A. Johnson.
Among the new songs in the movie are "The Great Divide" and "Buffalo Springfield Again," a wistful, playful homage to Young's '60s folk-rock combo. It also features performances of the Young classics "Long May You Run" and "Harvest Moon."
"You just pick the right time, usually a full moon or two nights in one place, and just shoot it," said Johnson, who met Young while filming CSNY at Woodstock in 1969.
Despite the singer's affection for the town, Young said the audience heard in the film was particularly rowdy during the taping, often shouting out requests and comments.
"He really let them talk, but I think it's because his relationship with his audience is unique," Johnson said. "You have to look at it in a historical perspective with Neil. He gives 100 percent every performance. His job is to come out and connect with the audience and tell those stories. He's focused on that, but he listens to them [the audience], and he can judge them."
Young, who first came to prominence with his distinctive guitar playing and high, quavering voice with Buffalo Springfield in the late '60s and later as a solo star in the '70s, said he will not tour in support of Silver and Gold. Because he played most of the songs during his solo acoustic tour, Young said, he feels he already toured for the album.