Neil Young has been around for a long time. Aside from looking at old publicity photos of Young from the 60s, it’s kind of hard to imagine ol’ Neil as a young man, or as anything less than the rock and roll icon he is today. I mean, dude, Neil Young! Rockin’ in the free world! Harvest! Cinnamon Girl! I think it’s safe to say he’s put out somewhere around 800 albums since the 60s, and this newest live album, “Sugar Mountain,” has quickly become one of my favorites in recent days.
Here’s a little context: when this live, solo performance in Ann Arbor, MI, was recorded, Young was only 22 years old, had previously enjoyed moderate success in Buffalo Springfield (they had that “Stop, children, what’s that sound, everybody look what’s going’ down” song which was apparently the soundtrack to the Vietnam War, if Hollywood is to be trusted.
I guess it was just constantly blaring out of speakers in the jungle while firefights were raging) and his first solo album would be released approximately a week later.
Sugar Mountain is the third installment in the Archives collection of some of the best live Neil Young performances spanning the course of his career. Young, backed only by his acoustic guitar, sings songs from his debut album as well as others he wrote for Buffalo Springfield.
His voice is high and wavering as it also is today, and something about the stripped down nature of the performance lends a power and immediacy absent from the more fleshed-out album versions. He plays in front of what appears to be a small crowd at a small venue, and Young spends a lot of time chatting between songs and making jokes, sometimes at his own expense.
It’s a side of Young most fans have never really heard or seen, and is made even more interesting when one considers the extraordinary career that would follow this performance from 40 years ago.
If you’re a serious Neil Young fan, you’ll probably want to get this album because it’s remarkable document of a musical icon who’s just coming into his own as an artist and a performer.
It might be a good place for the uninitiated to test the waters as well.