Personnel: Neil Young (vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar); Anthony Crawford (vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, piano); Pegi Young (vocals, acoustic guitar, vibraphone); Ben Keith (vocals, electric guitar, lap steel guitar); Chad Cromwell (drums).
Audio Mixer: Niko Bolas.
Recording information: Legacy Studios, New York, NY; Rak Studios, London, England.
Photographer: L.A. Johnson.
In the continuing series of offroading jags that is Neil Young's career discography, the '00s stand out as a time when Young became a songwriter almost wholly without metaphor, when he--like a retooled Phil Ochs--mastered the topical song. Following previous '00s efforts like the 9/11-themed LET'S ROLL and the Iraq War-centric LIVING WITH WAR, FORK IN THE ROAD casts him as the musical propaganda wing for the Lincvolt project, a partnership between Young and the "Motorhead Messiah" Jonathan Goodwin, a Kansas man who got a converted Lincoln Continental to go 65 m.p.h. on 100 m.p.g.
The message drives the music: each of the 10 tracks is about repowering the American dream of fast cars and open highways with a fossil fuel-free energy source. "Johnny Magic," a bracing anthem recalling ZUMA's "Barstool Blues," lauds Goodwin as the ecological answer to Johnny B. Goode. "Fuel Line" and "Cough Up the Bucks" fuse grunge and funk, while "Hit the Road" depicts rush hour motorists "trying to find the energy to stay in the groove." Among the crunching Les Paul chords (which sound like a revving engine), the album's two ballads--the organ-draped "Off the Road" and the minor-key "Light a Candle" framed by elegiac pedal-steel--stand-out as welcome oases. Another highlight is the closing title track, which features a loose and funny Neil Young grumbling about the poor sound of mp3s, governmental bailouts, and financial analysts on television.
Rolling Stone (p.70) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "This is mostly raw, chop-shop rock & roll, so auto metaphors fit right in."
Spin (p.101) - "[T]he new rushed-and-blasted 'Johnny Magic' shared DNA with post-hippie strumfest 'Sugar Mountain': It's an ode to innocence lost by an epic talent..."
Billboard (p.37) - "Lately, Young is obsessed with developing alternative fuels, and that's evident all over the album, most prominently in the snarky highlight 'Fuel Line'....Young is inspired throughout."
Blender (Magazine) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "[T]he material verges on the extraordinary....Pragmatically exploiting his sure tune sense, his saving falsetto and a command of the political facts well exceeding that of LIVING WITH WAR, he's turned out the first great protest album of the new dispensation."
Record Collector (magazine) (p.98) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "With the penultimate 'Light A Candle' Young implores us to remember that today's actions have bearing on not only our futures, but future generations."
Uncut (magazine) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "[A] brief, bracing, at times very funny garage-rock blast....This is not florid essay, but rather angry editorial banged out on a tight deadline..."