Music

Album review | Pop

Neil Young, ‘Storytone’

John Davisson/Invision/AP

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When Neil Young sang “I’m Glad I Found You” last month on the first of his two nights at Citi Wang Theatre, the stranger next to me leaned in to whisper: “OK, maybe I was a little hard on him before. He sounds really happy.”

She had been upset about Young’s personal affairs, that he had split with his wife of 36 years and was now reportedly dating Daryl Hannah. She was right: This new song, so simple and direct, suggested Young is happy, maybe even at peace. You don’t have to comb Young’s new album, “Storytone,” to hear the joy he has found in a blossoming romance. It permeates these songs, in lines as vivid as, “Tumbleweed, I’m baring my soul/ To you.” The more pertinent, and troubling, news is that this is Young’s first album with strings, recorded with a 92-piece orchestra, with a few songs backed by a bluesy big band. Even for an artist known for his maverick ways, “Storytone” is a leap of faith that turns out to be a grave misstep. You can admire its uncompromising spirit, but you can just as easily loathe its saccharine sound. After hearing some of these songs live in their acoustic forms, it’s jarring to see how Young has neutered them on record. “Who’s Gonna Stand Up?” is another of his potent calls to protect the environment, but he has dressed it up in a cloying orchestration that borders on parody. When a solemn choir intones behind him, it could be an outtake from “A Mighty Wind.” Take heart: The album’s saving grace is its deluxe edition, which presents all 10 songs in stripped-down, intimate settings that allow you to savor and bask in their beauty. They’re special — with no strings attached. (Out Tuesday)


JAMES REED

ESSENTIAL All of the deluxe edition’s non-orchestral versions

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