Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sugar Mountain: Live at Canterbury House 1968

A solo, acoustic live album recorded in 1968 and released in 2008 as part of the Archive Series, Sugar Mountain gives us a very soulful, intimate and entertaining look at Neil, as he plays some selections from his solo album and his work with Buffalo Springfield. The result is a far more powerful document of this era in his career than his debut album, in part because his vocals sound more confident, and in part because most of these songs sound better pared down. Not unlike Billy Corgan, another favorite songwriter of mine, Neil has sometimes obscured great songwriting with overboard production antics or ineffective aesthetic choices. Sugar Mountain rectifies some of the mistakes of his early era. Done acoustically, "Mr. Soul" no longer sounds like a ripoff of "Satisfaction." "Out of My Mind" sounds like a Neil song for the first time. "The Old Laughing Lady," without the silly overproduction, finally sounds beautiful and haunting.

Between almost every song, Neil chats/bullshits a little bit with audience, talking about his songwriting process, telling Buffalo Springfield anecdotes, opining about his overabundance of downer songs, launching into a non-sequitur about working at a book store while high on black beauties. His goofy, offbeat, rambling stories are charming and often hilarious... the first time you listen to this album. After that, you're likely to be scrambling for the skip button every 3 minutes so you can just get to the frickin' music already. You might want to put it on your iPod with all the talking tracks removed.

But whatever points I might dock Sugar Mountain are redeemed by its 11th track. "Birds," a short, poetic break-up song (that would eventually show up on After the Gold Rush in an excellent, if somewhat overblown, studio version) performed live here is simply one of the most beautiful things Neil has ever released.

Rating: B


Shenan said...

I agree whole-heartedly. This is definitely in my top 3 Neil albums. I think so much of his solo album was really meant to be played this way- simply and intimately, so the power of the songwriting shines through once you cut out all the unnecessaryness added in the studio to make it sound like a "Rock Album" with a capital R and A.

And I'm glad you've finally come to love "Birds" through this performance. Now I won't have to follow you around with a boombox playing it at pivotal moments in your life to try to get you to love it.

Shenan said...

and by "solo album" i meant "self-titled album." of course it's solo.