Review: A Young Man’s Dreams—Neil Young’s Archival Series Continues

Neil Young/Dorothy Chandler Pavilion 1971/Reprise
4 Out of Five Stars

Neil Young and the Santa Monica Flyers/Somewhere Under the Rainbow/Reprise
3 Out of Five Stars

Neil Young/Citizen Kane Jr. Blues/Reprise
3.5 Out of Five Stars

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Neil Young/Neil Young Official Please Series Discs 13, 14, 20 & 21/Reprise
3.5 Out of Five Stars

While some artists are intent on cashing out and selling their catalogs lock, stock, and barrel, Neil Young has gone in the opposite direction, plundering his vaults and releasing a steady onslaught of archival albums, box sets, and heretofore unreleased live material, all in an effort to satiate his ardent devotees and presumably, to ensure his legacy doesn’t go unnoticed. At this point, completists may be hard-pressed to keep up, both in terms of the financial demands of acquiring it all and dealing with an unexpected deluge of material that becomes available seemingly at a moment’s notice.

Nevertheless, the value of Young rarities generally outweighs any sense of discretion. In the case of Dorothy Chandler Pavilion 1971, Young treats his fans to an album that was once a much-sought-out collectible when it first appeared some 50 years ago. Originally referred to by its current subtitle, I’m Happy That Y’all Came Down, it was one of the first widely circulated bootlegs, of a similar vintage as the Beatles’ Get Back and Dylan’s Great White Wonder. Boasting a line-up that plucked songs from his initial handful of solo albums—with a couple of his Buffalo Springfield contributions to boot—it found Young performing solo on piano and guitar and providing a seminal selection of greatest hits: “Tell Me Why,” “Old Man,” “Heart of Gold,” “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” “Ohio” and “I Am a Child,” chief among them. The artwork is replicated from the original album, the setlist is expanded and the sound quality is more than adequate to ensure Young is spotlighted in fine form. Taken in tandem with his other live recordings, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion 1971 ranks among the more essential offerings of Young’s current crop of releases.

Recorded two years later, the heretofore unreleased Somewhere Under the Rainbow finds Young and a new combo, consisting of Nils Lofgren on guitars and keys, Ben Keith on pedal steel, and his Crazy Horse rhythm section, drummer Ralph Molina and bassist Billy Talbot, performing at London’s Rainbow Theatre. The first disc consists of songs culled from his then-current album, Tonight’s The Night. The second disc finds Young performing solo and delving more into his back catalog courtesy of his Buffalo Springfield standard “Flying In the Ground Is Wrong,” “Helpless” and “Cowgirl in the Sand.” Sadly, the sound comes across as bootleg quality, given vocals that sound distant and somewhat muddled in the mix. So too, the playing seems ragged and rather perfunctory, even by Young standards. Here again, collectibility will likely be of prime importance, but if choices must be made, one might want to consider prioritizing the other options.

Citizen Kane Jr. Blues finds Young back in a solo setting, and while some of the performances initially seem rather tentative, he comes through with unfailing effort and determination. Given the ambient noise and audience interruptions that surround these songs, there’s an air of intimacy imbued in each offering, just as Young’s candid commentary adds its own hint of humor. The song selection is intriguing as well, a mix of the familiar (“Long May You Run,” “Greensleeves,” “Helpless,” “Dance Dance Dance”) and songs performed only infrequently (“Ambulance Blues,” “On the Beach,” “Pardon My Heart”). Recorded in May 1974, it bears special significance, not only for its mix of material but for the location itself, given that the Bottom Line has always been prime environs when it comes to hosting contemporary singer/songwriters of such an obvious ilk. For that reason alone, fans will likely consider this another essential offering.

That may not necessarily be the case with Neil Young Official Release Series Discs 13, 14, 20 & 21. A four-disc repackage of albums of varied distinction, it offers nothing new in terms of bonus tracks but rather the opportunity to simply catch up on some Young albums that might have been overlooked otherwise—Hawks and Doves, Eldorado, This Note’s For You, and Re-ac-tor. The first two are credited to Young alone, with the latter co-billing the ever-faithful Crazy Horse and This Note’s For You featuring an ad-hoc outfit called The Blue Notes. The incongruous numbering is related to the fact that these albums preceded and followed a series of Young’s releases on Geffen, effectively breaking the trajectory he had established early on with Reprise. Yet, each album was distinctive in its own right. 

Hawks and Doves, which was previously released on its own as part of the Archive Digital Masterpiece Series in 2003, finds Young leaning towards straight country, with two songs, “Little Wing” and “The Old Homestead” originally intended for the aborted, but recently revived Homegrown album. Another entry, “Lost In Space,” is an outtake from Comes a Time

Re-ac-tor was significant for the fact that it marks the first appearance of the synthesized sounds that would find favor on later albums Trans and Landing on Water. It too had its original rerelease through the Archive Digital Masterpiece Series. For its part, This Note’s For You marked the first, and one of the only times, Young incorporated brass into an album. The five-song Eldorado EP was previously released only in Japan (although three songs of its songs — “Don’t Cry,” “On Broadway” and the title track would later appear on 1989’s Freedom),  making its inclusion here one of the better reasons to buy.

Photo by Gus Stewart/Redferns

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