By any definition, Jesse Colin Young is an iconic individual. One of the founders of the early essential Americana band The Youngbloods who has also enjoyed a successful solo career, the songs he’s been responsible for over the course of the past 50 years — “Darkness, Darkness,” “Sugar Babe,” “Quicksand,” and in particular, “Get Together” (a song he didn’t write) — have become an indelible part of the lexicon of popular music.
Young’s new album, Highway Troubadour — only his second effort in the past 14 years due to his bout with Lyme disease — revisits several songs from his classic catalog, beginning with “Four in the Morning,” which came from his first solo album, The Soul of a City Boy, continuing through “Quicksand,” culled from the Youngbloods album Elephant Mountain and the track written for his daughter called “Song for Juli.” The trajectory continues through the album’s leadoff tune, “Tripping on My Roots,” the theme song written for his recent series of podcasts.
“These were 11 of the 21 or 22 songs we cut, although I probably tried 30 or 35,” Young recalls. “I just went in and played two or three in a series of four-hour sessions. These were the only A-plus-plus takes. So I chose them like that. They were the very best. There are a couple of songs from last year’s Dreamers album, and I thought it was appropriate that they came out before the election. They’re there because they’re part of my repertoire, so they’re the A-plus-plus ones. There may be more songs, but they need to be tweaked, but I’ve set a nice high bar with these, and I’m clearly capable of doing this, so there should be further volumes that are just as good.”
The joy Young finds in the new album is clearly filtered through the lens of the illness he dealt with for nearly two decades. “I didn’t have the energy to record,” Young says of the lull in activity caused by his malady. “I did some solo videos, and that was the beginning, because that’s all I could do.”
Young paints his struggles with Lyme disease in honest and expressive terms. “Yes, it’s disabling,” he says. “I had no energy, no memory, just joint pain, muscle pain, nerve pain. Crazy sh*t. Anxiety. Tense anxiety. Panic attacks. My wife got this pamphlet and I read it, and that’s when I realized I had Lyme disease, because I had all the physical and psychological symptoms. I felt flat-out sick and crazy.”
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