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Neil Young Sugar Mountain Review

Live. Released 2008.  

BBC Review

A valuable insight into the man's early defining moments.

Chris Jones 2008

With Old Shakey finally opening up the vaults ahead of his huge 10-disc Archive box with the amazingly good Massey Hall and Filmore East (with Crazy Horse) concert recordings, Sugar Mountain has a lot to live up to. Luckily it easily passes muster, making up for musical shortcomings with sheer historical fascination.

With Buffalo Springfield already a fleeting halcyon dream, Young headed into the studio with Jack Nitzsche and David Briggs in the late summer of 1968 to record his debut album. This gig, recorded at The Canterbury House in Ann Arbor, captures Young a mere couple of days before its release running through new numbers as well as the cream of his Springfield songs. It's these tapes that supplied the version of the title track that we all know and love from his Decade compilation. Written on the cusp of adulthood, Sugar Mountain (the song) is a key glimpse into the mind of a man for whom childlike innocence and hard-bitten careerism could be converse sides of the same creative coin. It's a wide-eyed and cheery performance, only marred by one composition - the interminable last Trip To Tulsa which always kept his first solo album becoming a true classic.

For the more clued-up Young watchers it's fascinating to hear an early version of the beautiful Birds (finally to appear on After The Goldrush, two years later) as well as what appears to be Neil actually discovering the melody to Winterlong in front of the audience! Very much of its time, the gig is peppered with rambling interludes about cars, working in bookstores (with the aid of chemicals) and open tunings.

What's also intriguing is how Young, obviously trying to reinvent himself as an acoustic troubadour, refers to himself in the past tense as a ''lead guitarist''. Within a couple of months he'd hooked up with garage hippies, Crazy Horse, and was back at the electric coal face, turning into one of the finest guitarists of his era. Sugar Mountain is therefore both a valuable insight into the man's early defining moments but also a chance to reappraise the material from his much-maligned first album. Essential.

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