Any clod can play ”unplugged,” but few rockers make better, or more affecting, wimps than Neil Young does. After proving on his last two albums that he can still wallow in feedback, the lovely Harvest Moon finds Young seesawing back to the lulling country-folk of albums like Comes a Time. (Harvest Moon is, in fact, something of a sequel to the 20-year-old Harvest, using many of the same musicians.) The album isn’t intended as any sort of big statement; there’s barely an electric guitar to be heard, nothing beyond a mid-tempo beat, and plenty of purty female harmonies. Rather, it’s comfortable, reassuring, and proudly old wave — just like one of those gloriously weathered flannel shirts Young always seems to wear on stage.
In both music and tone, Harvest Moon is wistful and elegiac; with Young’s ever-mellowing quiver front and center, it’s the classic-rock equivalent of a late-period Sinatra saloon-song album. The song’s narrators are melancholy (the man who admires a diner waitress from afar in ”Unknown Legend”) or cautiously hopeful (”Dreamin’ Man”); in ”One of These Days,” Young promises to write someday to all of his old friends. And the music, particularly gentle wafts like ”You and Me” and the title song, seems to hang by a delicate thread, the melodies held aloft by strummed acoustic guitars and hearthlike accordions and organs. At times, Harvest Moon is almost intentionally slight, from its recycled Young guitar chords to the banjo-plucked paean to his dead dog (and let’s not forget an almost unbearably sappy ode to his wife). Then again, flannel shirts never go out of style either. B+