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Print ads have touted Neil Young's succinct new album as "his most personal in years," a statement unlikely to sit well with the restless godfather of grunge. Every Young disc, even the clunkers that junked his '80s stint at Geffen, is personal. Some, like Silver and Gold, also happen to sound personal.

Young's band here -- drummer Jim Keltner, piano/organ player Spooner Oldham, and Donald "Duck" Dunn on bass -- keeps the album hushed without lulling the listener to sleep. "The Great Divide," with a reference to a carousel ride, hints at a carnival with a quiet organ grinding in the background; "Buffalo Springfield Again" has the bounce of Young's old group but also an ironic, gentlemanly polish that boasts the maturity the lyrics long for.

There are also several small-town romances that find Young in silly-love-song territory. "Horseshoe Man" pauses for the singer to observe that love don't care if you're wrong or right, or black or white, then finishes with love's the answer ... love's the question. "Distant Camera" frames a chorus of all I need is this song of love to sing to you in an arrangement a shade too dramatic for its simple testimony. "Razor Love," the album's longest, best cut, is not much sharper lyrically, despite promising a razor love that cuts clean through. If that's what the ads mean by "personal," then Neil ain't no Shakespeare in love. But even at a simmer, Young remains convincing. The last time he turned his flame down this low was 1993's Harvest Moon, a disc of overwhelming pleasantness that has aged well; its candy coating has eroded, revealing something of satisfying graininess. Silver and Gold comes with less extraneous sugar and is the better for it.

Like Harvest Moon, Silver and Gold ends with a dark hymn. "Without Rings" is solo Young singing of space aliens and sharpshooters and angels. Like a child stranded on a hellish playground, he is baffled by images he's afraid to do anything but glance at. There is a war inside pictures in my brain, Young sings in a startling descending baritone that suggests a groggy Willie Nelson. It's solemn and almost tuneless, but it has the immediacy of Young's best work. Like the last chapter of a mystery, the song forces you to reconsider Silver and Gold from the beginning. The album rewards the extra attention, stretching out like a blanket; it's not brilliant, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a more reassuring 40 minutes.

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