Neil Young: Songs For Judy

A compelling listen and historically significant.

Neil Young
Songs For Judy
(Shakey Pictures Records/Reprise)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The seemingly bottomless vault of Neil Young’s music gets raided again for this solo/acoustic compilation from his November 1976 tour. Assembled by Cameron Crowe and photographer/guitar tech Joel Bernstein, both there recording every show on cassette, these 22 tunes cherry-picked from a variety of cities capture Young’s raw, visceral and often humorous nature as he unspooled new and old music.

The concerts began with Young unaccompanied for an hour, after which he was joined by Crazy Horse. Only the first half is presented here, in audio so pristine it’s unbelievable it was recorded on a lowly cassette. The varied batch of originals shows how long Young hangs onto his compositions before recording them. “White Line” doesn’t appear on an album until 1990’s Ragged Glory, “Human Highway” (played on banjo) and “Give Me Strength” ended up on 2017’s Hitchhiker, and the reflective, bittersweet piano ballad “No One Seems to Know” has never made it to an official release before now.

Young digs into his back pages for the obscure “Here We Are In The Years” and “The Old Laughing Lady” — both from 1969’s debut — and excavates “The Losing End” from his sophomore effort.  The set closes with a sweet 6-minute version of the introspective “Sugar Mountain.” The only Buffalo Springfield inclusion is “Mr. Soul,” not a song that naturally translates to the unplugged format.

The album’s odd title refers to impromptu patter that opens the first three minutes of this disc, as Young tells a strange story about Judy Garland, who he imagined was looking up at him from the pit. He’s in fine voice throughout, and even if these performances aren’t always iconic, they’re personal and often touching, even in front of some rowdy crowds. According to press notes, the compilers spent days sifting through dozens of takes to find the best, most inspired moments, which makes this a compelling listen and historically significant.