January 15, 2014
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Live at the Cellar Door – Neil Young
This album, released just before Christmas, is the second in the Neil Young Archive Series and transports the listener back to late November and early December 1970 when Young played a series of concerts at the Washington DC venue, the Cellar. The album whilst featuring tracks from a number of those gigs is surprisingly seamless in its sound and the quality of the recording, obviously remastered with care and love, is excellent throughout.
Our hero, playing solo on guitar and a nine foot Steinway piano no less – which Young claims in one of his obiters he insisted on contractually to add a bit of eccentricity – features five songs from his (then) recently released album, After The Gold Rush, as well as a handful of songs from his stint with Buffalo Springfield and two new songs, Old Man and Bad Fog Of Loneliness which were destined to feature on Harvest (released in 1972) and Live At Massey hall (2007) respectively.
The album finds Young in a relaxed mood – his singing is clear and expressive – and he interacts well with the crowd who appear appreciative, albeit few in number. For once, retaining the artist’s inter-number banter adds to the experience rather than detracts – unlike Dylan’s generally embarrassing, self-conscious mumbling, for example. The track for the collectors is the piano version of the classic Cinnamon Girl – I am not aware that he has released another piano version of this old fave. The stand-out track IMHO is the title track to the Gold Rush album which sees Young tinkling the ivories for the first time on the album, closely followed by a truly awesome rendition of Down By The River.
In my mind Young has never really recovered from the obvious association between him and Neil, the stoned hippy in the Young Ones. And true to form the sense of being high (metaphorically and physically) pervades the album – what with the beautiful take of the old Buffalo’s standard, Expecting To Fly and Flying On The Ground Is Wrong – a song Young introduces as being about dope, mostly just grass. I had forgotten how pastoral Young’s songs were from that era and rediscovering that is one of the many pleasures to be derived from this album.
If you have not stumbled across Young’s work from the period, this is as good an introduction as any. If you want to experience intimately an artist at one with his art, check it out. For once, this album adds to the appreciation of its artist’s oeuvre rather than just being a cynical repackaging of old stuff to meet contractual obligations.