Ask 10 Neil Young mavens to identify the golden years and you’ll get 10 very different answers. However, few would argue that the period encompassing the live Time Fades Away (’73), On The Beach (’74) and the ’75 pair Tonight’s The Night and Zuma is among his finest. The unreleased Homegrown and Young’s work with the Stills/Young Band and Crosby, Stills & Nash enhance the picture further.
Eleven years after Volume 1, Archives Volume II is built around the four Young albums, with Homegrown, Roxy: Tonight’s The Night Live and Tuscaloosa here in their entirety. There are 10 previously unheard songs. Of those we already know, there are 19 “unreleased” versions; 13 “unreleased original” versions, 16 “unreleased live” versions and three “unreleased mixes”. Plus Greensleeves, and Joni Mitchell’s Raised On Robbery, which she sings in splendidly rocking fashion.
Complicated? Actually, no. Everything’s in chronological order, and mercifully there’s little track repetition. There’s stylistic cohesion too. The period found Young coming to terms with the global success of Harvest, without sacrificing what made it so popular in the first place, while the return of Crazy Horse on Zuma pointed the way to perhaps the most significant of Young’s assorted futures.
The unreleased songs join a few dots. The harmonica-drenched Letter From’ Nam opens the entire collection and it’s Young at his most mournful, but it’s a look back rather than forwards. Yet while the sub-three-minute Mediterranean, the final unreleased song, is similarly spartan, it’s infinitely richer, and a showcase for Young’s rapid development as a songwriter.
Born To Run (recorded contemporaneously with Bruce Springsteen’s unrelated classic) overflows with the jagged guitar that would come to dominate much of Young’s later work, but Daughters, originally scheduled for Homegrown, is probably the great lost song here. It’s a gorgeous, band-enhanced fable of rue and optimism, where ‘the daughters are dancing all day’. Frozen Man runs it close, as does the piano ballad LA Girls & Ocean Boys.
Compiled with discipline, diligence and no little love, Archives Volume II is an immersive treat. It’s primarily for fans, but even the most casual of acquaintances will find much to adore here.