I’ve seen Neil Young give acoustic concerts twice over the years, and he’s never been particularly loquacious in between songs. But on a new release of a concert from 1968, Sugar Mountain — Live at Canterbury House, he’s positively chatty.
There are seven raps interspersed throughout the set list and most are amusing, if not downright funny, from the laid-back, rambling Young. Perhaps the best is Bookstore rap, in which he talks about his only other job that lasted two weeks.
As for the concert, it’s excellent. It’s better than an earlier release from his archives, Massey Hall 1971, although not by much, from 2007. That one included a video DVD of the show, which is at times brilliant and other times (static shots of a reel-to-reel tape recorder) frustrating. This set comes in a two-disc version, the second being DVD audio.
What’s to like about Canterbury House is the era. The show is from around the release of his first very under-appreciated solo album The Loner, and many of the tunes are from it. These songs played acoustically makes the set all the more fascinating and rare.
The sound is very dry, very little reverberation, since it was recorded in a small coffee house in Ann Arbor, lending a more intimate air to the proceedings. Massey, recorded in Toronto, has more of a concert hall ambiance.
I have great respect for Young, but honestly haven’t been into his latest ventures. In fact only Freedom with Rockin’ In The Free World and Harvest Moon even scratch the surface with me in the past two decades. I love his early work and The Loner and After The Gold Rush are my favorite albums.
But to hear If I Could Have Her Tonight, I’ve Been Waiting For You, The Last Trip To Tulsa, The Old Laughing Lady and the title track from The Loner shortly after the album was completed makes for a significant document.
In addition, there are Buffalo Springfield tracks, among them Mr. Soul, Expecting To Fly and Broken Arrow, the last two big production numbers on record but here stripped down to the essentials. Also you’ll find an early version of Birds, from After The Gold Rush, done on acoustic guitar rather than piano.
These releases from the archives — they aren’t really reissues although they seem to be classified as such sometimes — almost make up for Young’s reluctance to remaster his early albums. He claims he hates the CD format and it’s unacceptable for the sonic quality he aspires to. Don’t get him started on MP3s. I kind of agree with him there at least on the low bit rates. But he’s scheduled to release the first volume of a long-awaited box set series next year and it’s going to be available on only DVD and Blue-ray audio versions at a ridiculously expensive pricetag of more than $300. Nothing on a CD release of any kind is in the works. It is eight discs but really. That’s a bit much.