Classic Rock Corner: Neil Young's Sugar Mountain
Sugar Mountain: Live at Canterbury House 1968
Forget Chinese Democracy. The real will-he-ever-release-it story of this decade (and the last...and the last...) is Neil Young's Archives Vol. 1, 1963-72. The (so far) massive 10-DVD set will include music, video, photos and interactive media, but the famously perfectionist Young continues to tease with release dates, only to snatch them back.
Shakey's latest postponement is reputedly due to tinkering with the Blu-Ray technology format. What Young has done is dribble out some single CDs in the "Archives" series, of which Sugar Mountain is the third.
This solo acoustic show, recorded on November 9, 1968 just days before the release of Young's debut LP, includes a mixture of his Buffalo Springfield numbers (including "Mr.Soul," "Broken Arrow," "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing") and tracks from the then-unheard Neil Young ("The Loner," "If I Could Have Her Tonight," "The Old Laughing Lady," "The Last Trip to Tulsa"). You can hear the tentativeness in Young's performance, and it actually comes off as endearing.
Having left the successful and more rock-oriented Springfield, the then-22-year-old is about to embark on a solo career with the high potential to flop, and is clearly testing the waters with a different sound. It translates into beautiful turns on songs like "Birds," "I've Been Waiting for You," and the title track, written a few years earlier by a teenage Neil already fretting over the loss of innocence.
And while the performance is flawless and spare, and Young himself is earnest, engaging, and (sometimes) meandering with his loose between-song anecdotes preserved here, Sugar Mountain is still mostly for serious Neilheads only. There are superior studio and live versions of much of this material available, and the previous "Archives" release, Live at Massey Hall 1971, which is also solo Neil (albeit with piano also), is far better.
However, if you want to see a musical genius on the precipice of a grand journey, before Crazy Horse and "Heart of Gold" and vocoders, this is a nice, mellow show that fans are fortunate to have had preserved. - Bob Ruggiero