It strikes me that Harvest Moon is clearly a hearkening back to Harvest, released some 20 years earlier. As such, it (unfortunately) begs to be reviewed by comparison....I say unfortunately because my appreciation of this album dropped dramatically once I had heard Harvest again.
The magic of Harvest was that the themes and their presentation were varied and fresh, almost naive, Neil was pushing the cusp of his world, groping for his identity amidst the dramatically expanded world in front of him (thanks to his success as a very young musician).
Harvest Moon, while I will agree with other reviewers who note its overall quality, tightness of lyrics and seamless music, comes off as a well textured choreographed album. It has none of the quite rawness of Needle and the Damage Done or the angst of Alabama, nor really the expansive grace of Heart of Gold, let alone the introspective waltz meets boxing match of 'Old Man'.
Indeed, this brings us to what I see as the heart of the matter: Neil Young at the time of this record is a older man, and his record sounds like it, too much like it in fact given the emotion he brings his old and new songs alike in live concerts.
A major drawback for this album is the production. It is way to smooth, overbalanced. This dampens the variance in the songs, homogenizes their disparate textures.
There are some great songs on this album, and it sits well as a whole, but for me it never reaches up to fully grasp my attention, to make me really care about what he is singing about.
That said, I am much closer in age to the Neil Young that wrote and recorded Harvest than the one that wrote and recorded Harvest Moon. And there in may lie the difference.