Forty-three years ago Neil Percival Young was at a crossroads in his career; his success with groups like Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young had given the Toronto-born singer/songwriter his earliest tastes of fame, but they were quickly becoming labels of the past. Neil had just released the critically acclaimed album After the Goldrush (1970), and decided to spend the future months working on his songwriting skills. In this time frame, he created what are considered to be some of his most beloved songs of all time. He would go on to perform these songs for the first time in a record six-show stint at Washington, D.C.’s illustrious music club, The Cellar Door, from late November through early December of 1970. These same recordings are now being released for the first time on his upcoming album Live at the Cellar Door, due to be released December 10th.
Neil Young Revisits His Classic Material With New Record
The Cellar Door, one of the premier music venues in D.C. throughout its sixteen-year tenure, offered some of history’s greatest musicians a distinctly intimate setting to try out new material and make a name for themselves early on in their career. Artists like Tom Waits, Muddy Waters, JJ Cale, Richie Havens, B.B. King, and Jim Croce (to name a select few) have all vacated the Cellar Door’s stage early on in their careers. During his time there in 1970, Young tried out early renditions of previously unreleased songs like “Old Man” and “Bad Fog Of Loneliness,” which can be heard in their purest form on the upcoming record.
Live at the Cellar Door showcases Neil Young’s talent as a solo performer. The surprisingly clean sound of the album, with little to no noise from the audience, creates the illusion that the Canadian folk hero is within your presence, playing for your individual entertainment and providing longtime fans with the most stripped-down versions of some of his greatest work.
The highlight of Live at the Cellar Door comes in the form of the albums closer, where Neil takes to the piano once again, in order to perform “Flying On The Ground Is Wrong”; a song written by Young for Buffalo Springfield, and famously covered by fellow Canadian rockers The Guess Who. The performance epitomizes the spiritually emotional nature of Young’s voice and words. He cries out “I’m sorry to let you down” and “Sometimes I feel like I’m just a useless child” to the enthralled spectators.
Songs like “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” are welcomed with the polite clapping of the venues infinitesimal audience. As the unmistakable tone of Young’s voice cries out the words of the song’s title, he strums his guitar in a style that is more aggressive than usual. As the song ends, and the appreciative whistles and cheers of the more than fortunate members of the crowd come to a halt, Neil abandons his guitar for the more delicate sound of the piano that ultimately defines “After the Goldrush.” As he cries “All in a dream, all in a dream” his voice quivers with all the fervor of a young poet.
Anyone who has been lucky enough to see Neil Young live throughout his fifty-three-odd years in the spotlight knows the quality of the sixty-eight-year-old’s work. Through nearly six decades of live tours and hit albums, Young has yet to lose any energy as a performer (if you don’t believe me, do yourself a favor and see him perform live with Crazy Horse). In fact, quite possibly the most impressive part about Live at the Cellar Door is the realization that Young sounds the exact same today as he did nearly forty-three years ago. It is this unquestionable talent and consistency that has solidified Neil Young’s place as one of the greatest musicians of our time.
Neil takes to the stage of NYC’s Carnegie Hall in early 2014.
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Article by Adam Lalama