Neil Young Releases Another Live Gem From His Archives

Solo acoustic gig from January 1971 is among the earliest concert footage of Young released to date

Since I first had learned about it a few weeks ago, I had been looking forward to the latest release by Neil Young, which came out Friday, March 26. Not only is Young Shakespeare a brilliant title, but it’s yet another highlight from Young’s archives. The live album and concert film comes only four weeks after Way Down in the Rust Bucket, which captures a terrific November 1990 live performance with Crazy Horse I previously reviewed here, and four months following the massive box set Neil Young Archives Volume II: 1972–1976.

Young Shakespeare documents an acoustic solo concert at the Shakespeare Theater in Stratford, Conn. on January 22, 1971. Neil Young was 25 years old at the time and had just entered what arguably is the best period of his solo career. Only four months earlier, he had released After the Gold Rush. Harvest, On the Beach and Tonight’s the Night were still about one, three and four years into the future, respectively.

Part of Young’s Journey Through the Past solo tour, the Shakespeare gig happened only three days after the famous Massey Hall show in Toronto Canada. The latter concert was captured on Live at Massey Hall 1971, which came out in March 2007 as the second release from Young’s Archives Performance Series. A vast amount of additional albums have since appeared in the series. If I see this correctly, Young Shakespeare is the second release of Volume 03, even though it’s registered as Volume 03.5. Well, I’m not an archivist.

As reported by NME, initially, video footage of the concert was filmed by German television at the time, but it never aired. Only bits and pieces recorded by visitors that night had been floating around among Young fans. Young considers the gig as superior to the Massey Hall show, calling it “a more calm performance, without the celebratory atmosphere of Massey Hall” on his archives website last year. “Young Shakespeare’ is a very special event,” he added. “To my fans, I say this is the best ever. ‘Young Shakespeare’ is the performance of that era. Personal and emotional, for me, it defines that time.”

I think Young may be right. The true magic of Young Shakespeare isn’t the set list. Neil Young fans have heard these songs a million times before. What I find fascinating are his announcements that illustrate what went through his mind at the time. They also convey Young’s great sense of humor. The entire gig comes across as very intimate. It’s almost like you’re in the same room with Young, and he’s chatting and cracking jokes while tuning his guitar for the next song. How about some music?

The first tune I’d like to call out is one of my all-time favorites: The Needle and the Damage Done. Mind you, when Young performed the song that night, it had not been recorded yet. I was included on his fourth studio album Harvest released in February 1972.

Dance Dance Dance is a track from Crazy Horse’s eponymous debut album that came out in February 1971. At the time of the Shakespeare gig, it was another yet-to-be-released tune. Young cheerfully calls it hoedown music.

Here’s a medley of A Man Needs a Maid and Heart of Gold, performed on the piano. Young introduces it by saying he hasn’t played the piano for a long time and usually screws it up. He cheerfully adds, “But you’ve never heard it before anyway, so you probably think that’s the way it is, and it’ll be alright.” Obviously, Young was correct. Both songs would appear on Harvest.

In addition to yet-to-be released songs at the time, Young played some old tunes. After all, his solo tour was titled Journey Through the Past. Here’s one of them, Down by the River, a song from his second album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere released in May 1969.

The last track I’d like to highlight is the album’s closer Sugar Mountain. Young wrote this song on November 12, 1964, which was his 19th birthday. The tune’s first official release was a live version, which became the b-side of Young’s first solo single The Loner from February 1969. It’s always been on of my favorite Neil tunes. It also cracks me up when Young says, “If you don’t know the words…just, you know, you’re all university students. Just memorize them after the first time!”

Here’s the full track list:

1. Tell Me Why
2. Old Man
3. The Needle and the Damage Done
4. Ohio
5. Dance Dance Dance
6. Cowgirl in the Sand
7. A Man Needs a Maid/Heart of Gold
8. Journey Through the Past
9. Don’t Let It Bring You Down
10. Helpless
11. Down by the River
12. Sugar Mountain


NME notes Young Shakespeare is only predated by footage from Young’s gigs at New York’s Café Feenjon in June 1970, and the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young concert at Fillmore East in March 1970. Obviously, there’s also the aforementioned Live at Massey Hall 1971, so I assume NME referred to video recordings. The new release is available on CD, vinyl and major streaming platforms. The DVD is available exclusively in Young’s own store.

Sources: Wikipedia; NME; YouTube

Way Down in the Rust Bucket is a Must for Neil Young Fans

Live album with Crazy Horse is the latest in Young’s prolific releases from his archives series

Since prompted by Music Enthusiast recently and my March 4 post about Mansion on the Hill, I’ve been thinking to do more on Way Down in the Rust Bucket, the latest release from Neil Young’s archives that appeared on February 26. I guess it was only a matter of time before I would revisit what Young and former Crazy Horse guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro have called a “definitive chapter” in the band’s history. In fact, when interviewed by Rolling Stone a few days ago, Sampedro went as far as characterizing the new live album as “the best Crazy Horse record we ever recorded.” While I cannot claim to know all of the band’s album, I know one thing for sure: Way Down in the Rust Bucket truly rocks, and Neil Young fans are going to love it!

The album captures a gig of Young with his long-time backing band Crazy Horse, which happened on November 13, 1990. About two months earlier, they had released Ragged Glory. The concert at The Catalyst, a nightclub in Santa Cruz, Calif., took place before the band embarked on an intense 53-date tour to support the album in January 1991. The tour was documented in the albums Weld and Arc, which both came out in October 1991. Located close to Young’s Broken Arrow ranch, The Catalyst holds about 800 people – sounds like a great venue to experience live music!

But don’t tell Poncho it was a warm-up gig. “I hate when people say, “These were warm-up shows for the tour”, he emphasized to Rolling Stone. “We did two shows. Do they really think they were warming us up for a giant tour? That’s more for us. It’s giving back to the community. We played in Santa Cruz. It’s really close to Neil’s place. That’s so most people could come to see us.”

Apart from songs off Ragged Glory like Country Home, Fuckin’ Up, Farmer John and Mansion on the Hill, Way Down in the Rust Bucket also features goodies from various other Neil Young albums, such as Cinnamon Girl (Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere – 1969), Sedan Delivery (Rust Never Sleeps – 1979), Like a Hurricane (American Stars ‘n Bars – 1975) and Cortez the Killer (Zuma – 1975). The live album is available in triple vinyl, CD, DVD and streaming formats. In addition to all tracks on the vinyl, CD and streaming versions, the DVD includes one extra tune, Cowgirl in the Sand, another track from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. Time for some music!

Let’s kick it off with opener Country Home, which is also the first track on Ragged Glory. Unless noted otherwise, all tunes were written by Young.

Here’s Farmer John. Originally an R&B song, the tune was co-written by Don “Sugarcane” Harris and Dewey Terry who also first recorded and released it as Don & Dewey in 1959. Sampedro told Rolling Stone the band recorded their cover in just one take for Ragged Glory. Their performance at The Catalyst only was the second time they played it. “It wasn’t quite as good, but we never played it before” [live], he noted.

Let’s do another track from Ragged Glory: Fuckin’ Up, a Young-Sampedro co-write. Asked during the above Rolling Stone interview, Sampedro confirmed Fuckin’ Up was first recorded during rehearsals for Young’s appearance on Saturday Night Life in 1989, where he was backed by Sampedro, Charley Drayton (bass) and Steve Jordan (drums). However, they switched it up during rehearsals. “Steve was playing my guitar and I love to play drums,” Sampedro said…I started playing the drums and we were getting into it.” Young has said he wants to put out the SNL rehearsals as an album – looks like another archives release to me! Meanwhile, here’s the live version from Way Down in the Rust Bucket.

Time to take a look at some of the goodies from other Young albums. Here’s Homegrown, the title track of the album Young initially had planned to release in 1975 but then decided to abandon at the last minute and put out Tonight’s the Night instead – a classic Neil move! Though, of course, Homegrown eventually appeared in June 2020.

Yes, it’s been played over and over, including in my blog. And while I don’t see myself being in a crowded hazy bar anytime soon, Like a Hurricane from American Stars ‘n Bars remains one of my all-time favorite Neil Young tunes that still blows me away. As such, I simply couldn’t skip it. Plus, this version is killer! 🙂

Not that I want to glorify violence, but speaking of killer, I’d like to wrap things up with what in my book is another absolute Young classic: Cortez the Killer, from Zuma, a 1975 album Neil recorded with Crazy Horse.

“I love this record,” Sampedro raved about Way Down in the Rust Bucket. “Neil plays great, unbelievably great. He’s just electrified. “Country Home” sounds like a country tune I never heard in my life. He just takes it to all kinds of different levels. He nails “Cortez.” He nails “Danger Bird” and “Over and Over.” He’s just playing so good and the band played really good.”

The last word shall belong to Young. We were in the pocket as soon as the lights went down that night at the Catalyst, he wrote on his website. I really love this memory and sharing it with all of you! We are so lucky to have this one. If you were there, our love goes out to you [man, I wish – you should have invited me, Neil!] Now this record and film brings that night to everybody! While it’s safe to assume no album can replace the experience of actually having been there that night at The Catalyst, I still take it!

BTW, Neil Young has been prolific with releases from his archives. Only last year, he put out three: Homegrown, Return to Greendale and Neil Young Archives Volume II: 1972-1976. The next one is already scheduled for March 26: Young Shakespeare, an all-acoustic solo gig recorded at Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, Conn., on January 22, 1971, just three days after Young’s legendary Massey Hall show.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; Neil Young website; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Neil Young/Deep Forbidden Lake

My streaming music provider served up this beautiful tune by Neil Young. Even though I dig the Decade compilation, on which Deep Forbidden Lake first appeared in October 1977, I had to look up the song. I guess it’s fair to call it a deep cut.

Originally, Young had recorded the track for Homegrown, an album he had intended to release in 1975. But in good ole’ Neil fashion he dropped it at the last minute and instead put out Tonight’s the Night in June that year, another previously completed but unreleased album.

Homegrown finally appeared in June this year sans Deep Forbidden Lake. It’s a nice mellow tune that’s perfect for a Sunday morning.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Neil Young’s Long Shelved “Homegrown” Finally Sees Light of Day

It’s been a long time coming. Some 45 years. But it was worth the wait. Today, Neil Young officially released Homegrown, an album he initially had planned to put out in 1975. But written in the wake of the breakup of his relationship with actress Carrie Snodgress, it felt too personal to him, so he decided to shelf it.

According to Apple Music, Young also had an entire second album written: Tonight’s the Night. In fact, he already had recorded it in August and September 1973, but had not released it. After deciding to stash away Homegrown in the drawer, he put out Tonight’s the Night.

Back to Homegrown. While these songs were written during what arguably was Young’s most creative period, I think it’s fair to say we’re not looking at another Harvest or Harvest Moon, to name two of my favorite Young albums. Still, this is a fine record, which takes Neil Young fans on what I think is a fascinating time travel journey back to the mid-’70s.

All of the 12 tracks on Homegrown were written by Young. Five of the tunes previously found their way on other Young records: Love Is a Rose (Decade, 1977), Homegrown (American Stars ‘n Bars, 1977), White Line (Ragged Glory, 1990), Little Wing (Hawks & Doves, 1980) and Star of Bethlehem (American Stars ‘n Bars). Additionally, Young had performed other songs like Separate Ways or Try live but not officially released on a record.

I’d like to start with the opener Separate Ways, a tune directly addressed at Snodgrass: …Though we go our separate ways/Lookin’ for better days/Sharin’ our little boy/Who grew from joy back then…The little boy is Zeke, who was born in September 1972. According to this New York Times Magazine story from September 2012, Zeke has a very mild case of cerebral palsy and works at Home Depot. Young’s second son Ben who he had with his second wide Pegi Young (née Morton) is quadriplegic with cerebral palsy and non-verbal. Young also has a daughter, Amber Jean Young, his second child with Pegi, who is a visual artist. To me, Tim Drummond’s melodic bass line and the pedal steel fill-ins by Ben Keith are the song’s musical highlights. BTW, none other than Levon Helms manned the drums on this track.

As previously noted, Homegrown first appeared on Young’s eighth studio album American Stars ‘n Bars from May 1977. While the two versions are similar, the original take feels “less produced,” starting out with some studio banter. Karl Himmel played drums on this recording.

We Don’t Smoke It No More is a nice, largely instrumental blues tune. Unlike the title may suggest, it actually does smoke quite a bit. Ben Keith, who also provided backing vocals and produced the track, did a nice job on slide guitar. And Young proofed that when it come to the harmonica he also some blues chops.

White Line is one of the album’s gems. The original acoustic country-oriented version we hear here sounds significantly different from Young’s previously released grungy take on Ragged Glory. I also feel it’s superior. In addition to Young on vocals, guitar and harmonica, this recording featured Robbie Robertson on guitar. According to Wikipedia, Young also recorded White Line for Chrome Dreams, yet another album that wasn’t released at the time – gee, I don’t believe I’m aware of any other music artists who creates entire only to shelf them! In October 2007, Young released Chrome Dreams II, but other than being an obvious reference to the shelved record, I don’t believe the two have anything in common.

The last track I’d like to call out is Star Of Bethlehem. While this recording is pretty much identical to the version Young previously included on American Stars ‘n Bars, it’s another highlight and as such simply too good to skip. Undoubtedly, that’s largely because of the beautiful harmony vocals by Emmylou Harris. Ben Keith also provided backing vocals, as well as dobro, but it’s really Harris who makes the song shine.

Like most of Young’s records since 1989, Homegrown appears on Reprise. The album was co-produced by him, Elliot Mazer, Ben Keith and Tim Mulligan. Apart from the above mentioned, additional musicians include Stan Szelest (piano) and Sandy Mazzeo (backing vocals.)

The final word here shall belong to Young. If you’ve read my previous posts related to this record, these words probably sound familiar. “This album should have been there for you a couple of years after Harvest, Young wrote on his website. It’s the sad side of a love affair. The damage done. The heartache. I just couldn’t listen to it. I wanted to move on. So I kept it to myself, hidden away in the vault, on the shelf, in the back of my mind….but I should have shared it. It’s actually beautiful. That’s why I made it in the first place. Sometimes life hurts. You know what I mean.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; New York Times Magazine; Neil Young website; YouTube

Neil Young Releases New Album With Crazy Horse

Young’s first new studio album with Crazy Horse since 2012 marks continuation of 50-year collaboration

I almost would have missed the new album by Neil Young & Crazy Horse, even though I previously wrote about Milky Way, the lead single that came out in late August. Colorado was released on October 25 while I was in Germany for a short trip. Young’s first new album with Crazy Horse since Psychedelic Pill from October 2012 in many ways sounds like a typical Neil album with the band: rugged and spontaneous. While it appeals to me and I suspect others digging Neil Young, I’m not sure it will gain him new fans. There is no obvious hit. But with Young being strong-willed and fiercely independent, I also suspect he doesn’t care.

One significant difference compared to previous Crazy Horse albums is the absence of Frank “Poncho” Sampedro. The band’s guitarist since 1975, who gave Crazy Horse a rawer, more edgy sound and became a frequent collaborator of Young, confirmed his retirement to Uncut earlier this year, as reported by Rolling Stone. Sampedro has been replaced by Nils Lofgren. Lofgren isn’t exactly a stranger. He played together with Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina, Crazy Horse’ bassist and drummer, respectively, on Young’s 1975 studio album Tonight’s The Night. He was also part of Crazy Horse’s eponymous debut album from February 1971, which the band recorded without Young.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse
From left: Billy Talbot, Neil Young, Nils Lofgren & Ralph Molina

Lofgren doesn’t appear to take things for granted. “It’s been a beautiful opportunity to play with dear friends that are still alive and well,” he told Rolling Stone. “Look, I hope there’s more, but I’ll take it a gig at a time right now.” Of course, Lofgren is also a member of the E Street Band, and Bruce Springsteen has confirmed plans for a new album with the band and a 2020 tour, as reported by NME. Let’s get to some music from Colorado, which by the way was recorded over an 11-day span this April at a studio in the Rocky Mountains at close to 9,000 feet – I suspect another difference to previous Crazy Horse albums!

Here’s the opener Think Of Me, which to me sounds more like a Neil Young solo tune. Like all tracks on the record, the song was written by him. The tune also sets up the album’s overall theme: Climate change and man-made environmental degradation. In addition to Young on guitar, harmonica and lead vocals, Talbot on bass and Molina on drums, the track features Lofgren on piano. Perhaps you thought Lofgren “only” is a guitarist. Nope, he’s a multi-instrumentalist who apart from guitar and piano/keyboards also plays accordion, pedal steel guitar and banjo. Not to imply anything negative here, but he certainly is no Sampedro!

So where’s some of that rugged sound I mentioned above? Ask and you shall receive. Here’s Olden Days. During an interview with Rolling Stone, Lofgren noted the initial plan had been for him to play acoustic guitar and accordion on the tune, but right before the band was supposed to record the track, Young suggested a heavier electric sound. “Right away, the song took on a more muscular, Crazy Horse vibe and it wasn’t forced,” Lofgren said. “That set the tempo for the rest of what we did.”

Green Is Blue is another gentle sounding tune, though Young’s message is everything but gentle: …We heard the warning calls, ignored them/We saw the weather change, we saw the fires and floods/We saw the people rise, divided/We fought each other while we lost our coveted prize…The song also features Lofgren on yet another instrument: vibraphone.

On Shut It Down, the band resumes a more muscular electric sound and Young is back with more dire warnings about environmental deterioration driven by human ignorance: …Have to shut the whole system down/All around the planet/There’s a blindness that just can’t see/Have to shut the whole system down/They’re all wearing climate change/As cool as they can be

The last tune I’d like to call out, I Do, is on the quieter side again. And there are more lyrics about environmental change. But two aspects regarding the instrumentation are new and intriguing: Lofgren on pump organ and Young on glass harmonica.

Asked by NPR about his philosophy that recording music isn’t about reaching perfection, Young pointed out, “We’re thinking about making it sound real, like you can feel that this means something to the people playing it. We’re not trying to impress anybody.” He also distinguished between rawness and imperfection and what he called a sound quality that’s as pure as possible. “They’re two totally different things. The raw thing that we create is the soul of music and the stories and the feelings of being human. The technical thing that happens is trying to capture that. If you try to capture that and you use tools that are less precise, then you get less of it. You know the feeling that you have when you hear something that’s really great and it touches your soul? The chances of it really touching your soul are much better if you hear all of it.”

Young has been pretty busy in recent years. Colorado is his fourth album since Peace Trail from December 2017. Apart from archiving all of his recordings on his website neilyoungarchives.com, he recently released Mountaintop, a film about the making of Colorado. It played in select theatres across the country on October 22. Here’s the trailer. Young is also working on 13 other films – gee! Moreover, on September 10, he published To Feel The Music, a book about his quest to bring high quality audio back to music lovers via his Pono music player.

Had it not been for the unexpected death of Elliot Roberts, who had been Young’s manager since 1967(!) and passed away on June 21 this year, Young probably would have announced a tour to support the new album. But as Lofgren told Rolling Stone, Young needs to adjust to a world without Elliot, so he has no present plans to hit the road with Crazy Horse. Colorado, which was produced by John Hanlon and Young, is dedicated to Roberts.

Sources: Wikipedia; Genius; Rolling Stone; YouTube