This discography analysis is written by contributor JT of Perth, Australia. Follow him at @thesonofnoone on Twitter.
Sugar Mountain: Live at Canterbury House 1968 (2008) Spotify
1) 'Emcee Intro'- I have no idea what the Canterbury House looks/looked like, but all I'm picturing a small basement-style place and about 100 people there, which sounds like 50 too many to the whacked-out Emcee. Let's get's this mellow party cracking.
2) 'On the Way Home'- God, I've heard this song so many times and I've never got tired of it. I doubt I ever will. It's a great concert opener, one of Neil's most melodic songs and the perfect way for Neil to warm his voice up. This version, although admittedly great, isn't as great as say, the Massey Hall version simply because Neil seems so restrained when singing. Even when Richie Furay had the mike for the Buffalo Springfield version, he gave it his all - which is why the Massey Hall version gets my nod over this, Neil just doesn't seem to give it as much here. But I don't blame him - after all he was just starting out his solo career and was seemingly a bit apprehensive. Anyway, enough about me. 8.5
3) 'Songwriting Rap'
4) 'Mr Soul'- There's an electric version of this song that Neil did with Crazy Horse in 1986. At the lowest point of his career (as some would say), when he was coming off his country phase and Landing With Water, still stuck in his Geffen years... he cranked out a remarkable version that has all the bite and growl that this song should have. This isn't that version, rather it's another acoustic take (how many's that now? We got theUnplugged version, the Year of the Horse version, probably others - can't think right now). I think I like this the best out of any of the acoustic versions. I think. 6.5
5) 'Recording Rap'
6) 'Expecting to Fly' - My oh my. I have never heard Neil sing this song and not make it completely brilliant. Perhaps would prefer it to be played on the piano, but I'm just nitpicking, especially because there wasn't a piano on the stage that night (I assume so anyway). No-one has even written another song like this, and no-one ever will. It's completely mesmerising. And fantastic, to boot. 9.0
7) 'The Last Trip to Tulsa'- This works better here than on the record. I've listened to it about 6 times this past week and am convinced that it's nothing more than Neil thinking that he should try and be a little bit like Dylan (but still himself). Obviously he hadn't learned yet that he would never need to be the next Dylan because he was the only Neil Young. And if it sounds like I'm avoiding talking about the song, then you're right because it honestly confuses me. I get lost when I listen to it, picking up the "oh my god, I can't believe he rhymed 'ride/pride', 'bed/dead'" moments that I forget where I'm at and I can't be assed going back to hear it. Still, it must mean something that I've listened to it six times this week, so 6.0
8) 'Bookstore Rap'- Yeah, you got fired... whatever. Play 'Heart of Gold' dammit!!
9) 'The Loner' - Such an unfuckwithable song. Great electric, great acoustic. Great tune. Nothing else to say. 7.5
10) 'I Used to Be... Rap'
11) 'Birds'- Weird hearing this with guitar. I guess I'm so used to it being played on the piano that anything opposed to the norm would shock. It's also interesting to know that this song had been kicking around for so long. He recorded it for his first album (but we'll get to that later), recorded a snippet with Crazy Horse (but we'll get to that later), and then finally got the take he wanted when making After the Gold Rush (but we got to that earlier). Never does it fail to be beautiful. Neil's somewhat restrained vocals really suit the rendition, but you can still almost tell that he doesn't exactly know what he wants to do with the song yet. 7.5
12) 'Winterlong (Excerpt)/Out of My Mind (Intro)' - Well, we know 'Winterlong' was written much earlier than it was released (as evidenced by its appearance on the Live at the Fillmore East release), but this takes it back even further. You probably already know that it's my favourite NY song, so even this little snippet is enough for me to go and find my fave versions to listen to. As for the request part, love the idea of a gig so casual. There is no way that could ever fucking happen again, not with Neil Young anyway.
13) 'Out of My Mind' - Such a great freakin' tune. Perfectly suited to this show and his performance. Not a patch on the original, studio version, but not much is. Still awesome enough for a good score though. 8.5
14) 'If I Could Have Her Tonight' - You know back when I reviewed his first album (It's on the first page of the thread, dummies), I said that to my knowledge Neil Young had never performed it live? Well, I was wrong. So that's gone and ruined that part. Fuck you Neil. 6.5
15) 'Classical Gas Rap'
16) 'Sugar Mountain Intro'
17) 'Sugar Mountain' - I gave this a 6.0 back when I reviewed Decade and I see nothing to change that review. After all, the Decade version was a live recording from 1968 and this concert presents a live version from, you guessed it, 1968... so the 6.0 stands. Especially considering it's the exact same rendition. Don't try and tempt me into changing it because the song doesn't need the attention. 6.0
18) 'I've Been Waiting For You' - What's with the Prince-like concert of just snippets?!? Alright, so maybe it's not that bad, but he's definitely picking and choosing the songs which he wants to see through to their destination. Anyway, so much for thinking that this song was debuted on the 2001 European Crazy Horse tour. Again, Neil's making me look bad. 7.0
19) 'Songs Rap'
20) 'Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing' - Back when we all read Shakey, Jimmy McDonough talked about a version of 'Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing' that was so good that Neil might be perverse enough to not include it in The Archives? Well, this is the version and Jimmy was right and wrong. Wrong in the sense that it was included when Vol. I of The Archives came out, but right when he said how good it was. This is spellbinding shit right here. Unbelievable in that my original score for the Buffalo Springfield version was a 6.0. This shits all over that. A very brown 8.5.
21) 'Tuning Rap/The Old Laughing Lady Intro'
22) 'The Old Laughing Lady' - Still not too much of a fan. At least it doesn't have the soul diva breakdown in the middle like the album version does. Again, it's another "Let's do Dylan" song. Keep it simple stupid. Keep it simple. 5.5
23) 'Broken Arrow' - Way better than the version on Buffalo Springfield Again. I always knew that the song was there, it just got buried beneath unnecessary gimmicks that distracted you from the great melody. 8.0
ALBUM RATING: 8.5
VERDICT: Not as good as Massey Hall, but that's OK because Neil was in better voice and was singing better songs. It's getting a great score because even though some of the versions lag behind others, there's a great flow to be found here. It's almost the unknown Neil Young here, dipping his toes in the waters of the solo career which has produced so many highs. But back then? Who would've known what would happen. Until the next surprise, this counts as one of the most unexpected Neil Young releases. I'm just grateful we got this to listen to (and in such great sound).
Fork in the Road (2009) Spotify
1) 'When Worlds Collide' - In a recurring theme throughout the album, ol' Neil'er chants along about cars while recalling songs and stylings from albums gone past. Considering the guy has made some fan-fucking-tastic albums in his career, I'm loathed to say that this is a bad thing. But he's been a bit off in the past few years, delivering album after album of tunes that are almost all the way to being good, but ultimately which fall short of success. We kick off Fork in the Road with a song which immediately had me thinking that it was the long lost Are You Passionate? track (yeah, like we've all been waiting for that!), such is its groove. But it's better than the description would have it, and that's because there's parts in the song that you're sure Neil's voice has come back to full life. But don't get ready to blow your load yet, because the song also has copious amounts of the album's failing... Neil's over-reliance in female backing singers (obviously wife Pegi and Neil's half-sister Astrid). They clog the chorus (which wasn't good enough anyway) and distract you from the fact that Neil's guitar work is probably his most fun in ages. Oh well, there's enough here to keep you intruiged in the next track. 5.0
2) 'Fuel Line' - Everyone's seen The Muppet Movie right? Well, this song would be the perfect road trip song for that movie. I listen to it and picture Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo and Beaker (fuck Dr Honeydew) chugging along to this, singing along. Don't know why I shared that with you, but I have... deal with it. Amazingly, the backing vocals work in this song, subdued and with the right part to sing. Neil's voice has definitely improved from the Chrome Dreams II songs and all of sudden, Neil's bought the fun back. Where's it been?!? 6.5
3) 'Just Singing a Song' - I hate this song's chorus, but the verses work much better. It's like a Greendale song, but better and Neil's guitar solo is filled with that unmistakeable tone of his. Other than that, I struggle to be OK with what he's trying to sing about. If singing a song won't change the world, don't sing a song about how singing a song won't change the world. That's how I see it. Maybe I'm looking about it all wrong. 5.0
4) 'Johnny Magic' - If you're like me, then you'll listen to this song and come out with a few things. First thing is the whole 'Johnny Magic' throwback to the "Johnny Rotten" parts of 'Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)' would have been best left as a thought, not an execution. Another is that Neil has had some bad lyrics every now and then, but this is like he's just tossed these off without a second thought. Thirdly, the song sounds like an electric cousin to the entire Harvest Moon album. Can't say I love the song, but I've heard way worse. 6.0
5) 'Cough Up the Bucks' - Um... yeah. This is, how would I term it? Unremarkable? Perhaps. Crap? I might go that far. It's got a riff that Neil could write (and probably did) in his sleep and has nothing whatsoever remarkable about it. It's not horrible, but it's not good. 3.0
6) 'Get Behind the Wheel' - While 'Get Behind the Wheel' gets points for its awesome, plodding rhythm, it loses points because;
a - there's not enough NY vocals and,
b - It recalls the days of the Shocking Pinks, and that's just not cool.
Neil's guitar work gets an honorable mention too, but that's about it. 4.5
7) 'Off the Road' - I'm such a geek for this thread, I've resorted to writing from notes for these latter-day albums (the reviews of other albums were simply from memory, due to me having listened to them so many freakin' times). My notes for 'Off the Road' looks something like this;
"Holy shit, I almost thought I was listening to 'Lightning Crashes' when the song started"
"Thank fuck it's not!!"
"Sleeps With Angels-esque?"
"This is a great song!!"
"Doesn't do much except exist as part of a dreamlike lullaby"
"Best on the album so far"
Yep. Couldn't agree with myself more. 8.0
8) 'Hit the Road' - Ultimately, the 'failing' (if you can call it that) of Fork in the Road is that there are too many filler-like songs around the 5.0 mark and not enough peaks. 'Hit the Road' is another middle of the pack song, but at least Neil seems to be having fun. Again, the backing vocals here are jarring to the point of distraction. 4.5
9) 'Light a Candle' - I'm going to hit you again with the comparisons, only because they're the first things that enter my mind. Call me crazy, call me a kook, call me Larry... I don't mind. But listen to this and tell me Neil hadn't been listening to 'Eyes on the Prize' from Springsteen's The Seeger Sessions album, crossed with 'Bandit' from Greendale. I almost as much of a Bruce nut as I am a Neil nut, so this doesn't cause any problems with me. If anything, it's a bit preachy, but it's not as vomit inducing as 'Mother Earth', so there's always that to make me smile. 7.5
10) 'Fork in the Road' - The last of the road trip songs. It's like Neil's on a cross-country journey with just himself as company, maniacally muttering out loud the first things which come in his head. As great as that is, the song's greatness lies in the slide guitar hidden throughout the song. I've listened to this song dozens of times now, and most the time I zone the words and the beat out just to hear the slide guitar a woozy organ work. Great fun. 7.0
ALBUM RATING: 6.5
VERDICT: I'm torn a bit. I don't love this album, but I love that Neil obviously enjoyed himself. It won't rank among his greatest and it won't be among his worse, and I hope it doesn't end up in the completely forgettable pile. Nearly every song on this album reminds me on a separate album, whether it's Are You Passionate? in some places, Harvest Moon or Greendale in other parts. What we do know is that Neil's voice here is stronger than it had been for years. I know the guy has got the brilliantly biting album still left in him where all he does is sneer and snarl while Old Black squeals. It's not this album, but Fork in the Road gives me hope that I'm going to bring out ratings higher than an 8.0 for songs in the future. My true dilemma is that Neil tossed off this album while prepping the first Archives box for release. Do I accept that most of his time is spent securing his legacy, instead of expanding on it, meaning that it's all Fork in the Road's from now on or do I want the guy to put the box down, keep Homegrown unreleased just that little bit longer while he preps a master disc that will once again show the kids who's the king? I don't know the answer to that, but I keep thinking about it. And the more time spent thinking about Neil Young and listening to his music is time very well spent.
NEXT: We open up the filing cabinet.