Tuesday, July 10, 2007

from the arkives: Neil Young

The story behind "Live at Massey Hall 1971"

After being solidified as one of the great singer/songwriters of his generation following the release of CSNY's "Deja Vu" and his third solo album, "After the Gold Rush", Neil Young embarked on a bare bones solo tour (featuring himself, his guitar, and his piano) during the winter months of 1970/71.

Neil was at his creative peak during this period, writing what seemed like an endless stream of new songs that he was debuting and polishing on the road. His producer David Briggs - sensing the importance of the tour - convinced him to record a gig so that it could be released as an album. As the tapes prove, Neil was on the top of his game when he played two sold out shows at Toronto's Massey Hall on January 19, 1971; unfortunately, the recording was soon forgotten, partly due to the Man in Black, Johnny Cash.

Neil traveled to Nashville a few weeks after the Massey Hall performance to shoot a quick segment for the Johnny Cash show. But true to the Nashville vibe, it wasn't long before Neil found himself immersed in a recording studio laying down the new material with an all-star group of studio musicians including James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt. Neil was so excited about the tapes that he quickly finished the album (what would become the legendary "Harvest") and rushed it to release, never even giving the Massey Hall performance a second listen.

It wasn't until 1997, nearly 27 years later, that the Massey Hall tapes were rediscovered. They are now presented to us in gloriously mastered sound quality, and as a DVD special edition. And what glorious sound quality it is - it sounds as if you are sitting next to Neil Young on stage, looking out over the awestruck audience. His 'intensely intimate' style is on full display here, drawing the listener in and making them feel comfortably at home. And while it's true that you've heard most of these songs before, it's unlikely you've heard them in this manner: stripped down to their bittersweet core, devoid of the sometimes grandiose arrangements of the studio albums. The strength of Live at Massey Hall 1971 lies undeniably in how well it complements and enhances the rest of Neil's work from the same era. It is a long-forgotten snapshot in time, a detailed portrait of a young artist on the verge of hitting his creative peak.

Neil Young - Old Man
Neil Young - A Man Needs a Maid/Heart of Gold suite

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