Not many musicians could get away with staging an autobiographical road show, playing new songs strung together by conceptual theater pieces involving what look like Jawas. But that was 25 years ago for Neil Young. What might have killed other performers' careers simply proved to be a phase for Young, who has since released odd electronic albums, stripped down his sound, beefed it up, fought lawsuits, teamed up with Pearl Jam and Booker T & The MG's, reunited Crazy Horse, split with the band, and reunited again. He probably thinks he can get away with anything at this point, though there's a difference between getting away with artistic dares and making them pay off. Young's new Greendale project doesn't lack for ambition: Setting 10 songs in the fictional coastal town of Greendale, California, the album (and its other incarnations as a film and stage project) uses the town's residents to offer a generational study, a weary State Of The Union address, and a note of hopefulness. It's Young's Winesburg, Ohio, but with Internet access and a devil in the jail. With the fastidiousness of an obsessive Tolkien fan, Young's web site maps out the story of three generations of the Green family and a crisis that challenges their beliefs. A bonus DVD of Young performing the songs solo in front of a Dublin audience goes into even more detail, and, unlike with most concept albums, the background material enriches the songs. (Young may not be Faulkner, but he's no Rick Wakeman, either.) As for the album itself, songcraft occasionally gets sacrificed for the sake of narrative, and some tracks are easier to admire than enjoy, but by and large, Greendale still works as a Neil Young record. Crazy Horse plays the material with its trademark beautifully raw sound, and a rich run of songs shifts from the violent paranoia of "Leave The Driving" to an elegy for that violence's victim ("Carmichael"), and into unguarded optimism ("Bandit"). Greendale even closes on a note of fiery hopefulness: As the youngest Green finds a way to connect with her parents' hippie idealism in "Be The Rain," the song points to what makes Young so important, even when he fails. He looks to the past for inspiration, but he keeps a keen eye trained on the future, too.