Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Neil Young- Sugar Mountain Live at Canterbury House 1968

Rating: 8.0
Released: Dec. 2, 2008, Reprise.

Neil Young has always liked to have it both ways.

One minute he's a folk troubadour. The next he's recording garage-rock bliss.

This 1968 set, culled from an intimate Michigan performance just days before his 23rd birthday, finds Young firmly entrenched in the former position.

It's weeks after he released his self-titled solo album, and years before he would release a string of 1970s masterpieces, including After the Gold Rush, Tonight's the Night and Rust Never Sleeps, that would establish him as one of the most important and versatile artists of the decade.

Young came to prominence leading 60's rock pioneers Buffalo Springfield, and he leans heavily on that output here, recording stripped-down, acoustic versions of classics like "Mr. Soul" and "Broken Arrow."

The still-fresh solo work feels remarkably lived in, and Young relies on his bittersweet lyrics and pinched voice to make the tunes. There's no studio trickery here. Young allows the songs to speak for themselves.

For those who think Young can't sing, listen to his hushed rendition of "The Old Laughing Lady." It's clear he knows something about atmosphere.

The Ann Arbor venue allows for maximum interaction between Young and his enamored audience, with Young filling the set with disarming chatter. He's funny, frank and clearly heading for bigger things.

If you're looking for pre-punk rockers and distorted guitars, don't look here. Search out Young's recently released 1970 performance at the Fillmore East with Crazy Horse.

But if you want Young working his storyteller mojo, check out this outstanding CD and DVD set.

On a side note, Young is currently touring with gifted followers like Wilco. Raise your hand if you want to hear Young and Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy exercise a guitar-stomp duet on "Southern Man."

If you didn't raise your hand, I find it hard to relate to you.

Tomorrow: Sufjan Stevens' latest project Welcome Wagon.


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