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Neil Young

The Archives series throws up a document of Young’s solo performances from his ‘76 tour. Steve Harnell listens in awe



Dear Stephen, funny how things that start out spontaneously end that way. Eat a peach, Neil.”

So ran Neil Young’s now-infamous kiss-off telegram to Stephen Stills in July 1976 that halted the pair’s summer US jaunt at the halfway point as they promoted their yet-to-be released Long May You Run album.

Without that typically abrupt decision, Young would probably have been recovering at home after a four-month tour with the Stills- Young Band. Instead, he went back on the road with Crazy Horse that winter, playing opening solo acoustic sets before a full-band electric performance in the second half.

Curated by Rolling Stone alumni turned film director Cameron Crowe, and Joel Bernstein (this material has previously done the bootleg rounds as The Bernstein Tapes), Songs For Judy collates 23 of those solo performances. Featuring Young on guitar, banjo, organ and piano, old favourites rub shoulders with deeper cuts and unreleased material.

“Sometimes I feel like a green Wurlitzer! I love it when you ask for the old songs, but if you get too much of the old shit… you know, goodnight…!” warns the star as he gets into his stride.

Neil’s good-natured barbs distil his perennial compulsion for perpetual forward momentum. That said, he’s still committed to his back catalogue cuts here; they’re not played grudgingly. Too Far Gone wouldn’t make it onto a studio album until 1989’s Freedom. Likewise, the excellent White Line and Give Me Strength only saw the light of day in 1990 and 2017 respectively.

No One Seems To Know is rarer still, unreleased in any form until now.

Nailed-on crowd-pleasing bankers abound, too, including Heart Of Gold, After The Gold Rush, stoner anthem Roll Another Number and Harvest, alongside a curtailed The Needle And The Damage Done (although the whooping crowd rather spoil its haunting qualities by cheering at inappropriate moments), but it’s the rarities that really pique the interest. Human Highway, a song that Young failed to nail for many years and eventually turned up as a downhome country tune on Comes A Time shines here as a stripped-back banjo number.

Likewise, a banjo refit of Mellow My Mind, Young straining at the edges of his vocal register, crystallises his wonky charm as a performer.

Also fascinating is Neil revisiting Buffalo Springfield classic Mr Soul and two of his earliest solo songs, Here We Are In The Years and The Losing End, the latter aching with loss. Pocahontas, another track with a tortuous recording history, and one of Young’s very finest story songs, is quite breathtaking as a double-whammy closer with Sugar Mountain, written 12 years earlier on his 19th birthday – a rare dose of nostalgia about his Manitoba childhood.

After April’s superb Roxy: Tonight’s The Night Live release from his Archives series, this is another musthave album for Young aficionados, a perfect continuation of his solo acoustic live LPs following Sugar Mountain.

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