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Young, Lanois team up, make 'Le Noise'

Some of your louder rock 'n' roll bands can make the Ryman Auditorium floorboards rattle a little. Few, though, have shaken the pews like Neil Young with just his electric guitar.

Young has been known to make a racket with a distinctive guitar sound that has influenced two generations of musicians. The low rumble he sent through the foundation at the Ryman in June, employing the technology he used on his new Daniel Lanois-produced album, "Le Noise," was something very different, however. In the audience, the air seemed to vibrate - as well as the listener's ribcage.

"Even though it was shaking the building it wasn't loud enough to hurt you," Young said recently in a phone interview from California.

It was that sound that drew Young to Lanois, who has given over his Los Angeles mansion to the pursuit of new sounds. Young was immediately intrigued when he plugged into the elaborate system built by Lanois and engineer Mark Howard.

What emerged from those recording sessions is new. "Le Noise" is full of interesting sounds and experiments, on both acoustic and electric guitars.

In a sense, it's Young as he first emerged as a performer - alone with his guitar singing about things completely personal and wholly universal.

"We might've just reinvented rock 'n' roll to a degree, to have it just being one person and for the record to have all that power; it's something, man," Lanois said.

At its center, of course, is Young. Two of the 64-year-old's three most recent albums of new material have carried heavy messages about things like electric cars and energy consumption ("Fork in the Road") and the Bush administration ("Living With War"). Young acknowledges "Le Noise" is much more personal than those albums, but he's not going to label it.

"There's a lot to do with love on the record. Love is in almost every song, and so it had a spiritual layer to it. It's not trying to do anything. It's just trying to be itself."

And on a handful of songs - "Walk With Me," "Sign of Love" and "The Hitchhiker" - that description sounds about right.

Other times, it feels like Young is as contrarian as ever. On "Angry World," with its looped vocals working like the background noise that fills our lives these days, Young points out, "It's an angry world for the businessman and the fisherman," perhaps shining a light on the fight over the oil spill.

"Peaceful Valley Boulevard" is cast in the mold of classics like "Aurora Borealis" and "Cortez The Killer," showing how mistakes made centuries ago grow and magnify over time until God cried tears that were a "pounding rain."

And then there's the brittle and beautiful "Love and War," on which Young lays down this shocking statement: "When I sing about love and war/I don't really know what I'm saying."

Isn't that a profoundly confusing statement from the artist who gave us "Ohio" and "Impeach the President"?

Young chuckles before answering.

"It's such a deep subject and there's really no one answer," he said. "There's nobody who really knows. It just seems to be a part of the human condition is to get in wars over and over again for as long as human beings have been around. So I have opinions but I'm not so sure that they're right."