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Rock - Released December 3, 2013 | Reprise

In late 1970, Neil Young was coming down from a bustling stretch of touring with the immensely popular Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and had just released his third solo album, After the Goldrush. That album, lodged between the jammy country rock of 1969's Crazy Horse-aided Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and the hushed, hermetic folk of 1972's Harvest, found an ethereal and otherworldly middle ground for Young's rapidly developing songwriting voice. Live at the Cellar Door finds a solo Young just a few months after the release of After the Goldrush, playing a six-show stint at the tiny Washington D.C. club, running through a set heavy on the relatively new material from Gold Rush, but also getting into songs that wouldn't see album release for a few more records yet. It would have been impossible to gauge at the time of the performance, but the set list of Live at the Cellar Door is a non-stop string of what would become some of Young's many timeless classics, punctuated by the sound of the unthinkably small audience clapping politely as he wove through 15 magical compositions on spare acoustic guitar and occasional piano. Not just heavy on highlights, this is a rare live recording that lacks any duds or missteps at all. Apart from near-perfect selections from After the Goldrush like its fever-dream title track, the heartbreaking "Birds," or the long look at growing up in "Tell Me Why," Young debuts future hit "Old Man" as well as the On the Beach piano dirge "See the Sky About to Rain." He also offers up a piano-only reading of "Cinnamon Girl," announcing "That's the first time I ever did that one on piano." Part of an ongoing archival series of key live dates from Young's massive career, Live at the Cellar Door includes snippets of the usual between-song banter, but a noticeably tired Young is more subdued even when making dry jokes. Sticking mostly to focused readings of his then-brand-new songs, he cultivates a somber mood, tapping into all the sorrow, wonder, and wistfulness of his early solo material as well as a few Buffalo Springfield tunes. These tracks feel much more like an album of alternate versions than a typical live recording. The intimacy and raw beauty of Live at the Cellar Door makes it not just a must for super fans, but a valuable companion piece to any of Young's early studio output. ~ Fred Thomas

Rock - Released October 26, 2012 | Reprise

As it turns out, the lumbering Americana was merely an amateurish rehearsal for the reuniting Neil Young & Crazy Horse. Just a handful of months after that collection of schoolhouse folk tunes, the band released the mammoth Psychedelic Pill, Neil's first-ever studio double-LP. It's not just the album itself that sprawls: Young rides Crazy Horse through long, long songs, kicking off the proceedings with the 27-minute "Driftin' Back," a song that makes the nearly 17-minute "Ramada Inn" and 16:30 "Walk Like a Giant" look comparatively svelte. No matter how many three-minute palate cleansers surround these monoliths, there's no getting around the fact that these overdriven, overlong jams are a way of separating the men from the boys, leaving behind only those with the strength to stomach such a large, undiluted dose of the Horse. Fortunately, the band is sounding much more limber than it did on Americana, where it seemed like the group members were picking up their instruments for the first time in a decade, so they can keep things moderately enchanting as the rock rolls out with no end in sight. That heavy, churning, perpetual motion is what's unique about Young & Crazy Horse, and Psychedelic Pill provides an abundance of it, but this feels different than their skronk-fests of the past, lacking the ballast of Ragged Glory, the sinew of Rust Never Sleeps, or the crackling, kinetic energy of Arc Weld or Live Rust. Instead, this is the sound of a veteran band settling into their familiar frayed clothes, doing precisely what they do best and nothing more. An air of tempered nostalgia permeates the album, evident not only in the unapologetic '70s grind of the band but in Young's lyrics, which fuzzily rhapsodize about "Drifting Back" and the first time he heard "Like a Rolling Stone." Unlike Dylan -- or many other of his baby boomer peers -- Young sounds like a defiant old coot pining for his past, which makes Psychedelic Pill yet another oddity in a catalog filled with them: it's noise rock as comfort food. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Rock - Released September 1, 1977 | Reprise

Neil Young's most popular album, Harvest benefited from the delay in its release (it took 18 months to complete due to Young's back injury), which whetted his audience's appetite, the disintegration of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (Young's three erstwhile partners sang on the album, along with Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor), and most of all, a hit single. "Heart of Gold," released a month before Harvest, was already in the Top 40 when the LP hit the stores, and it soon topped the charts. It's fair to say, too, that Young simply was all-pervasive by this time: "Heart of Gold" was succeeded at number one by "A Horse with No Name" by America, which was a Young soundalike record. But successful as Harvest was (and it was the best-selling album of 1972), it has suffered critically from reviewers who see it as an uneven album on which Young repeats himself. Certainly, Harvest employs a number of jarringly different styles. Much of it is country-tinged, with Young backed by a new group dubbed the Stray Gators who prominently feature steel guitarist Ben Keith, though there is also an acoustic track, a couple of electric guitar-drenched rock performances, and two songs on which Young is accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra. But the album does have an overall mood and an overall lyric content, and they conflict with each other: The mood is melancholic, but the songs mostly describe the longing for and fulfillment of new love. Young is perhaps most explicit about this on the controversial "A Man Needs a Maid," which is often condemned as sexist by people judging it on the basis of its title. In fact, the song contrasts the fears of committing to a relationship with simply living alone and hiring help, and it contains some of Young's most autobiographical writing. Unfortunately, like "There's a World," the song is engulfed in a portentous orchestration. Over and over, Young sings of the need for love in such songs as "Out on the Weekend," "Heart of Gold," and "Old Man" (a Top 40 hit), and the songs are unusually melodic and accessible. The rock numbers, "Are You Ready for the Country" and "Alabama," are in Young's familiar style and unremarkable, and "There's a World" and "Words (Between the Lines of Age)" are the most ponderous and overdone Young songs since "The Last Trip to Tulsa." But the love songs and the harrowing portrait of a friend's descent into heroin addiction, "The Needle and the Damage Done," remain among Young's most affecting and memorable songs. ~ William Ruhlmann

Rock - Released August 31, 1970 | Reprise

In the 15 months between the release of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and After the Gold Rush, Neil Young issued a series of recordings in different styles that could have prepared his listeners for the differences between the two LPs. His two compositions on the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young album Déjà Vu, "Helpless" and "Country Girl," returned him to the folk and country styles he had pursued before delving into the hard rock of Everybody Knows; two other singles, "Sugar Mountain" and "Oh, Lonesome Me," also emphasized those roots. But "Ohio," a CSNY single, rocked as hard as anything on the second album. After the Gold Rush was recorded with the aid of Nils Lofgren, a 17-year-old unknown whose piano was a major instrument, turning one of the few real rockers, "Southern Man" (which had unsparing protest lyrics typical of Phil Ochs), into a more stately effort than anything on the previous album and giving a classic tone to the title track, a mystical ballad that featured some of Young's most imaginative lyrics and became one of his most memorable songs. But much of After the Gold Rush consisted of country-folk love songs, which consolidated the audience Young had earned through his tours and recordings with CSNY; its dark yet hopeful tone matched the tenor of the times in 1970, making it one of the definitive singer/songwriter albums, and it has remained among Young's major achievements. ~ William Ruhlmann

Rock - Released September 24, 2010 | Reprise

Booklet
The old conventional wisdom on Neil Young used to be that he alternated between acoustic folk and full-on guitar skronk with every other album, but 2010’s Le Noise -- the French affection in its title a tongue-in-cheek tip of the beret to his producer Daniel Lanois -- melds the two extremes. At its core, it’s a singer/songwriter album, a collection of reflections and ruminations about life and loss in the modern world, war imagery rubbing against battered memories and tattered autobiography, the songs leisurely following their own winding path, but it’s produced loudly, with Neil supporting himself with only his electric guitar for all but two tracks, where he switches the Les Paul for an acoustic. He’s not in Crazy Horse mode, spitting out chunky garage rock riffs, but strumming his overdriven electric, with Lanois tweaking the results, accentuating the ambience in post-production. To say the least, this results in a distinctive album, but it plays differently than it reads, sounding not too dissimilar from the Bush-era laments of Freedom. If Le Noise isn’t as galvanizing as Freedom, it’s because it’s created on a considerably smaller scale, its eight songs containing no masterpieces and Lanois’ moody noir production reining in Young’s messy signature. So, Le Noise winds up as something elusive and intriguing, a minor mood piece that seems to promise more than it actually delivers. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Rock - Released March 13, 2007 | Reprise

Booklet + Videos
The second volume of Neil Young's long-promised, suddenly thriving Archives series is Live at Massey Hall, preserving a 1971 acoustic show at the Toronto venue. Where the first volume captured a portion of Neil's past that wasn't particularly well documented on record -- namely, the rampaging original Crazy Horse lineup in its 1970 prime -- this second installment may seem to cover familiar ground, at least to the outside observer who may assume that any solo acoustic Young must sound the same. That, of course, is not the case with an artist as mercurial and willful as Young, who was inarguably on a roll in 1971, coming off successes with Crazy Horse, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and his second solo record, 1970's After the Gold Rush. The concert chronicled on Live at Massey Hall finds Neil dipping into these recent successes for material, as he also airs material that would shortly find a home on 1972's Harvest in addition to playing songs that wouldn't surface until later in the decade -- "Journey Through the Past" and "Love in Mind" wound up on 1973's Time Fades Away, "See the Sky About to Rain" showed up on 1974's On the Beach -- and then there's two songs that never showed up on an official Neil Young album: the stomping hoedown "Dance Dance Dance," which he gave to Crazy Horse, and "Bad Fog of Loneliness," which gets its first release here. This is a remarkably rich set of songs, touching on nearly every aspect of Young's personality, whether it's his sweetness, his sensitivity, his loneliness, or even his often-neglected sense of fun. True, the latter only appears on "Dance Dance Dance," but that comes as a welcome contrast to the stark sadness of "See the Sky About to Rain." But even if "Down by the River" and "Cowgirl in the Sand" retain their intense sense of menace when stripped of the winding guitar workouts of Crazy Horse, this concert isn't dominated by melancholy: it's a warm, giving affair, built upon lovely readings of "Helpless," "Tell Me Why," "Old Man," and an early incarnation of "A Man Needs a Maid" (here played as a medley with "Heart of Gold") that removes the bombast of the Harvest arrangement, revealing the fragile, sweet song that lies underneath. While this concert isn't as freewheeling and rich as Young's studio albums of the early '70s -- each record had a distinctive character different from its predecessor, thanks in part to producer David Briggs, arranger/pianist Jack Nitzsche, and Young's supporting musicians, including Crazy Horse or the Stray Gators -- it nevertheless captures the essence of Neil Young the singer and songwriter at his artistic peak. That's the reason why this concert has been a legendary bootleg for nearly four decades and why its release 36 years after its recording is so special: it may not add an additional narrative to Neil Young's history, but it adds detail, color, and texture to a familiar chapter of his career, rendering it fresh once more. No wonder Briggs wanted to release this concert as an album between After the Gold Rush and Harvest: it not only holds its own against those classics, it enhances them. [Live at Massey Hall was also released as a two-disc set that contained a CD of the show and a DVD containing the same concert in high fidelity audio.] ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Rock - Released September 1, 1977 | Reprise

Neil Young's second solo album, released only four months after his first, was nearly a total rejection of that polished effort. Though a couple of songs, "Round Round (It Won't Be Long)" and "The Losing End (When You're On)," shared that album's country-folk style, they were altogether livelier and more assured. The difference was that, while Neil Young was a solo effort, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere marked the beginning of Young's recording association with Crazy Horse, the trio of Danny Whitten (guitar), Ralph Molina (drums), and Billy Talbot (bass) that Young had drawn from the struggling local Los Angeles group the Rockets. With them, Young quickly cut a set of loose, guitar-heavy rock songs -- "Cinnamon Girl," "Down by the River," and "Cowgirl in the Sand" -- that redefined him as a rock & roll artist. The songs were deliberately underwritten and sketchy as compositions, their lyrics more suggestive than complete, but that made them useful as frames on which to hang the extended improvisations ("River" and "Cowgirl" were each in the nine-to-ten-minute range) Young played with Crazy Horse and to reflect the ominous tone of his singing. Young lowered his voice from the near-falsetto employed on his debut to a more expressive range, and he sang with greater confidence, accompanied by Whitten and, on "Round Round," by Robin Lane. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere was breathtakingly different when it appeared in May 1969, both for Young and for rock in general, and it reversed his commercial fortunes, becoming a moderate hit. (Young's joining Crosby, Stills & Nash the month after its release didn't hurt his profile, of course.) A year and a half after its release, it became a gold album, and it has since gone platinum. And it set a musical pattern Young and his many musical descendants have followed ever since; almost 30 years later, he was still playing this sort of music with Crazy Horse, and a lot of contemporary bands were playing music clearly influenced by it. ~ William Ruhlmann

Pop - Released September 1, 1977 | Rhino

Neil Young's most popular album, Harvest benefited from the delay in its release (it took 18 months to complete due to Young's back injury), which whetted his audience's appetite, the disintegration of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (Young's three erstwhile partners sang on the album, along with Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor), and most of all, a hit single. "Heart of Gold," released a month before Harvest, was already in the Top 40 when the LP hit the stores, and it soon topped the charts. It's fair to say, too, that Young simply was all-pervasive by this time: "Heart of Gold" was succeeded at number one by "A Horse with No Name" by America, which was a Young soundalike record. But successful as Harvest was (and it was the best-selling album of 1972), it has suffered critically from reviewers who see it as an uneven album on which Young repeats himself. Certainly, Harvest employs a number of jarringly different styles. Much of it is country-tinged, with Young backed by a new group dubbed the Stray Gators who prominently feature steel guitarist Ben Keith, though there is also an acoustic track, a couple of electric guitar-drenched rock performances, and two songs on which Young is accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra. But the album does have an overall mood and an overall lyric content, and they conflict with each other: The mood is melancholic, but the songs mostly describe the longing for and fulfillment of new love. Young is perhaps most explicit about this on the controversial "A Man Needs a Maid," which is often condemned as sexist by people judging it on the basis of its title. In fact, the song contrasts the fears of committing to a relationship with simply living alone and hiring help, and it contains some of Young's most autobiographical writing. Unfortunately, like "There's a World," the song is engulfed in a portentous orchestration. Over and over, Young sings of the need for love in such songs as "Out on the Weekend," "Heart of Gold," and "Old Man" (a Top 40 hit), and the songs are unusually melodic and accessible. The rock numbers, "Are You Ready for the Country" and "Alabama," are in Young's familiar style and unremarkable, and "There's a World" and "Words (Between the Lines of Age)" are the most ponderous and overdone Young songs since "The Last Trip to Tulsa." But the love songs and the harrowing portrait of a friend's descent into heroin addiction, "The Needle and the Damage Done," remain among Young's most affecting and memorable songs. ~ William Ruhlmann

Rock - Released November 7, 2006 | Reprise

Rock - Released November 15, 2004 | Reprise

It may be hard to believe, but 2004's Greatest Hits is not only the first retrospective Neil Young has released since 1977's Decade, it's the first ever single-disc collection of his best-known songs. That's a span of 27 years separating the two collections, which is an awful long time to resist a Greatest Hits disc -- many of his peers succumbed, offering countless comps during those years -- and such a resistance to a compilation may not be much a surprise from the legendarily prickly Young, but what is a surprise is that 11 of the 16 songs on Greatest Hits were also on Decade. Of the five songs that were not on Decade, only two date from after the '70s -- 1989's "Rockin' in the Free World" and 1992's "Harvest Moon" -- while one of the remaining three (1970's "Only Love Can Break Your Heart") comes from the time chronicled on Decade; the other two, 1978's "Comes a Time" and 1979's "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)," arrived in the two years of the '70s not covered on the 1977 compilation. All this means is that Greatest Hits offers the basic canon, with no frills and none of Neil's trademark idiosyncrasy. Some may miss that cantankerous spirit, pointing out that this contains nothing from his towering twin masterpieces of dark introspection -- Tonight's the Night and On the Beach -- or that there's nothing from Buffalo Springfield (which was covered on Decade) and that noteworthy songs like "Powderfinger," "Cortez the Killer," "Lotta Love," and "Long May You Run" are missing. Ultimately, that doesn't matter much, because Greatest Hits has all the songs that every Neil Young fan, from the devoted to the casual listener, agrees are his biggest and best: "Down by the River," "Cinnamon Girl," "Helpless," "After the Gold Rush," "Southern Man," "Ohio," "The Needle and the Damage Done," "Old Man," "Heart of Gold," "Like a Hurricane." And that's why it works as an all-business introduction for the uninitiated and as a concise summary for those not willing to travel down all the long, winding roads Young has traveled over the years. In other words, it's as good a compilation as it could have been. [Greatest Hits was released in several editions. In addition to the basic single CD, there was a limited edition containing a DVD video with the promo clips for "Rockin' in the Free World" and "Harvest Moon." There was another limited edition with a bonus 7" record. Finally, it was also released as a high-resolution DVD Audio disc.] ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Pop - Released October 23, 1992 | Reprise

The year of the 20th anniversary of the release of his most popular album, Harvest, Neil Young released a new album that harked back to that recording, employing many of the same musicians, again dubbed the Stray Gators, as well as arranger Jack Nitzsche and background singers Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor. He also used a similar folk-country acoustic style and sang songs that often had a personal, confessional tone. But the similarities were more of form than of content because, while Harvest was the statement of a confused, if earnest, 26 year old, Harvest Moon embodied the ruminations of a somewhat regretful 46 year old. Indeed, the greatest comparison to be made between the two records was that Young tried to use the passage of time as a confirmation of continuity. In the first several songs, he seemed to be trying to reconcile with his wife and revive their love, though he was uncertain that was possible. In "One of These Days," he regretted the loss of friendships over the years. "War of Man" and the long and ponderous "Natural Beauty" concerned environmental preservation, and even the rollicking banjo tune "Old King" was a lament for the death of a faithful dog. "I never tried to burn any bridges," sang an artist whose contradictory instincts to move on and to return found him, by the time of his 27th solo album, trying to get back to the feel of his fourth. If the attempt was not completely successful, nevertheless it was well and honestly made, and Young wasn't alone in his desire. As Hollywood has long since learned, sequels have a built-in audience, and Harvest Moon became Young's best-selling album in 13 years. ~ William Ruhlmann

Rock - Released November 28, 2009 | Reprise

Unlike previous entries in Neil Young's Archives series, Dreamin' Man Live '92 does not capture a specific gig. Instead, it's a compilation of highlights from the tour he took prior to recording Harvest Moon, as he aired the album's ten songs alone with his guitar (or on one occasion each, his piano and banjo). Although every one of the album's cuts is here, this isn't a strict re-creation of the album, since the songs are sequenced in non-LP order, but that's a minor detail: for most intents and purposes, this is an alternate version of Neil's well-loved but not epochal return to country-rock. Some of the songs do gain a degree of poignancy in this bare-bones setting, which doesn't make them better, just different, and certainly worth hearing for those fans dedicated enough to care. And while this is better than, say, Unplugged -- that was pretty good, this is very good -- these performances are at their core sturdy and appealing, the kind that fans will love but never speak of breathlessly. Then again, it's pretty hard to be breathless about music that sways as gently as this. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Pop - Released September 29, 1989 | Rhino

Neil Young is famous for scrapping completed albums and substituting hastily recorded ones in radically different styles. Freedom, which was a major critical and commercial comeback after a decade that had confused reviewers and fans, seemed to be a selection of the best tracks from several different unissued Young projects. First and foremost was a hard rock album like the material heard on Young's recent EP, Eldorado (released only in the Far East), several of whose tracks were repeated on Freedom. On these songs -- especially "Don't Cry," which sounded like a song about divorce, and a cover of the old Drifters hit "On Broadway" that he concluded by raving about crack -- Young played distorted electric guitar over a rhythm section in an even more raucous fashion than that heard on his Crazy Horse records. Second was a follow-up to Young's previous album, This Note's for You, which had featured a six-piece horn section. They were back on "Crime in the City" and "Someday," though these lengthy songs, each of which contained a series of seemingly unrelated, mood-setting verses, were more reminiscent of songs like Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" than of the soul standards that inspired the earlier album. Third, there were tracks that harked back to acoustic-based, country-tinged albums like Harvest and Comes a Time, including "Hangin' on a Limb" and "The Ways of Love," two songs on which Young dueted with Linda Ronstadt. There was even a trunk (or, more precisely, a drunk) song, "Too Far Gone," which dated from Young's inebriated Stars 'n Bars period in the '70s. While one might argue that this variety meant few Young fans would be completely pleased with the album, what made it all work was that Young had once again written a great bunch of songs. The romantic numbers were carefully and sincerely written. The long imagistic songs were evocative without being obvious. And bookending the album were acoustic and electric versions of one of Young's great anthems, "Rockin' in the Free World," a song that went a long way toward restoring his political reputation (which had been badly damaged when he praised President Reagan's foreign policy) by taking on hopelessness with a sense of moral outrage and explicitly condemning President Bush's domestic policy. Freedom was the album Neil Young fans knew he was capable of making, but feared he would never make again. ~ William Ruhlmann