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Neil Young – Sugar Mountain

Sugar Mountain is the third in the Neil Young Archives Performance Series, confusingly numbered 00 (after previous volumes 02 and 03). It was recorded over two nights at Canterbury House in Ann Arbor, Michigan in November 1968, just a couple of months before Young’s self-titled debut album hit the shelves. Like the previously issued Massey Hall show from 1971, this is a solo set, but the two are very different beasts. This earlier show is much looser and spontaneous, peppered with anecdotes, reminiscences and other rambling monologues.

Sound quality, as you’d hope, is very good, and the set largely consists of a mixture of Buffalo Springfield classics and songs from the solo debut. The title track is the same take that appeared on something like three early B sides as well as the 1977 compilation Decade, but nothing else has been issued before.

Neil Young was a largely acoustic affair, so the versions presented here aren’t radically different. “Last Trip to Tulsa” is as rambling and weird as ever. More interesting are the (necessarily) radical reinterpretations of the Springfield songs. “Expecting to Fly”, in its original incarnation, is a sweeping orchestral lament, but it holds up well as a stripped down acoustic ballad. “Mr Soul” translates from a Stones like rocker to a jaunty folk tune with little difficulty. Most surprising is how well the intricate and multi-part suite “Broken Arrow” stands up. It oughtn’t work, but does. The Massey Hall show gave us acoustic Neil at the peak of his powers. Sugar Mountain is more a soiree amongst friends – more intimate and with funny moments. To say it was essential would be to stretch things somewhat, but it’s certainly enjoyable.

The DVD contains a DVD-Audio recording of the gigs (which refused to play on my PC for reasons I’m not entirely clear about) and a five minute video trailer for the forthcoming archives box (which did play). Talking of which, the scheduled release date for the ten DVD / Blu-ray collection is February 24th. Amazon US are taking advanced orders at an eye watering $310.49! That’s £200, give or take.
Recession, what recession?

For more from Dez, please read his blog Music Musings & Miscellany