Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sweet Sugar Mountain

Neil Young continues to add to his large body of work. One bit of that body, a live recording, remains fresh to me after four plus decades: Sugar Mountain – Live at Canterbury House 1968. Released two years ago, I first heard the recording on NPR at their music site.

Yesterday, while thinking of a friend who’s about to record, I bought the CD. Before giving it to her, I played it in the car as I drove around on that sunny Autumn day. The time was then but the sound feels very contemporary. Lately, I’ve listened to a lot of local musicians performing their songs courageously alone with their instruments of voice and guitar. Sugar Mountain has a familiar feel depite the dust of time.

In this recording, made over two November days in Ann Arbor, you can listen to Neil and his guitar, discuss his music and his life. The talking happens when he’s re-tuning, usually, so there’s the sound of stretching and slacking strings. Like the musicians I hear locally, he talks about the songs, the inspiration, how long it took to write them. Songs can stand well upon their own notes, but songs sung by writers inevitably are accompanied by some personal narrative because songwriters are storytellers.

Sugar Mountain also reflects the self-recorded atmosphere today. Reconsider the orchestration and accompaniment you’re planning for your next CD. Other musicians are going to kill me for suggesting this. Consider recording the songs in a live setting. We have the technology and the great sound folks in local venues. The live setting of this simple elegant set makes the set that much more real. Without the audience, we probably would not have the relaxed talks from Young. You do that with your audiences now.

Great art, like this, captures a bit of the past while informing the present.

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