On The Download: Neil Young's Sweet 'Sugar Mountain'

Neil Young has been promising fans a collection of his archives for years. The unpredictable folk-rocker has tucked away dozens of unreleased songs and live recordings over his four-decade career, and while the first collection of what’s supposed to be a multi-volume set was finally scheduled for this fall, it was pushed back to 2009 – but in the meantime, Neil has offered to sate hungry listeners with “Sugar Mountain – Live at Canterbury House, 1968.”

The third of several recent archived concert records that the sometime-Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young member and ex-Buffalo Springfield singer has released from his fertile late ‘60s/early ‘70s period, “Sugar Mountain” is the source of one of his finest acoustic moments, the title track. First released as a B-side and later on the greatest hits album “Decade,” “Sugar Mountain” is one of Neil’s most poignant songs – a 22-year-old singer reminiscing over the simple pleasures of childhood. At 22, days from turning 23 at the time of this recording, Neil didn’t quite have the vocal confidence or the established songwriting style he’d showcase a few years later, but there was nothing lacking about his musicianship.

The set draws on Neil’s Buffalo Springfield material, including acoustic takes on “Mr. Soul” and “Broken Arrow,” but it’s his solo stuff – “The Loner” and “Sugar Mountain,” to name two – that really impress. The album captures Neil between the break-up of his old band and the release of his own first, self-titled album and it’s fascinating to hear the young musician finding his feet as a budding solo artist.

Along with artists such as Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, it doesn’t get much better for folk fans than classic acoustic Neil – and this recording finds him on the verge of entering his prime. Should the archives see release next year, Neil’s promised 100+ songs and rare concert footage will be a feast — but until then, “Sugar Mountain” is a sweet appetizer.

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