CD Review of Sugar Mountain: Live at Canterbury House, 1968 by Neil Young
Recommended if you like
Bob Dylan, Stephen Stills,
James Taylor
Label
Reprise
Neil Young:
Sugar Mountain:
Live at Canterbury House, 1968

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

S
o it seems we’re still waiting for Neil Young’s long-promised anthology, the supposed follow-up to 1977’s Decade and what promises to be the ultimate collection of all things Neil. By now the proposed set’s taken on almost mythical proportions; as currently advertised, Neil’s readying a 10-DVD epoch that will cost consumers somewhere in the range of hundreds of dollars. It’s a less than promising trade-off – the prospect of having to wait indefinitely for this ultimate pay-off, or face the possibility of paying off one’s life savings in order to afford it when it arrives.

In the meantime, Neil’s given fans a recent pair of teasers to further heighten anticipation. Two live albums dating from the early ‘70s – Live at Massey Hall and Live at the Fillmore East – have spotlighted classic performances, both solo and in collaboration with Crazy Horse. Now he probes the archives once more to offer the ultimate sampling of the artist as a… ahem… Young man, thanks to a concert disc recorded in November 1968 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, not long after staking his departure from Buffalo Springfield and only days prior to the release of his eponymous debut solo album.

Sugar Mountain is made all the more enjoyable given the fact that includes sizeable chunks of that first album, which, although it’s rarely included in the canon of classic Young offerings, still ranks as one of his most satisfying accomplishments, an example of the artist in purely evocative songwriter mode. The highlights are represented here – the rambling, analogy-laden narrative "Last Trip to Tulsa," the shuffling, indelible "The Loner," the wistful ballads "If I Could Have Her Tonight," "I’ve Been Waiting For You" and "The Old Laughing Lady" – as well as revisits to the cream of his Springfield contributions -- "On The Way Home," "Out Of My Mind," "Broken Arrow" and "Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing." Each tune is rendered in turned-down acoustic mode, giving a plaintive nod to songs that were generally more effusive in their original incarnations.

It’s a credit to Young and his somewhat arched sense of humor that he laments his seeming lack of ability to write real upbeat songs. Contrary to the forlorn demeanor he exhibits on record, his between-song patter and personal anecdotes are surprisingly spry and even self-effacing at times. That’s especially true when he recounts his brief tenure as a book store clerk, an episode subverted by an unfortunate encounter with a supply of amphetamines. Then again, that’s part of Young’s charm, the ability to teeter on a divide between mellow and mayhem.

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