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Occasional flashes of brilliance in Young's buried treasure
on 14 June 2011
The latest in the Neil Young Archives Performance Series, A Treasure is an unlikely collection of songs from Young's deeply unfashionable 80s period, including cuts from the Old Ways album whose style this live recording most closely resembles. While Old Ways is probably the only one of his Geffen albums still worth listening to in its entirety, it is one of a series of releases considered unrepresentative of Young's more familiar output, as a result of which Geffen eventually sued him. Its hardcore country leanings are tempered on A Treasure, partly because the live band that Neil Young had put together, consisting of Tim Drummond, Ben Keith, Spooner Oldham, Rufus Thibodeaux and others, represented the very best musicians available; and partly also because new life was breathed into old songs, including an almost inspired version of 'Southern Pacific', more familiar from the plodding version on the pedestrian Re-Ac-Tor album.
While there are other inspired moments on A Treasure, including a version of 'Flying On The Ground Is Wrong' originally on the first Buffalo Springfield album from 1966, and a magnificent performance of 'Grey Riders', one of the great unreleased Neil Young songs, which begins as a country stomp, and ends reminiscent of 'Like A Hurricane' drenched in disintegration and feedback. Other 'lost' material appears, including 'Amber Jean', which is competent but less inspirational, and in total the album features 5 previously unreleased songs. All are painted to a greater or lesser extent in the country stylings with which Neil Young was experimenting at this stage in the mid-80s. It is an unexpected and unusual choice of release, given the fact that Young's classic 70s archive material has yet to appear, but adds weight to a positive reassessment of an under-appreciated and often dismissed period of his career. It is also a timely release, coming less than a year after the death of Ben Keith, one of Neil Young's longest serving and most inspired musicians, whose comment on hearing the tracks again, led directly to the album's title. While the overall effect of A Treasure is slightly underwhelming, it is nevertheless a worthy and welcome addition to a series of live recordings that is becoming almost essential.