Neil Young: Archives Vol. 1 (1963–1972) Page 4

Moving from Disc 0 to Disc 1, we get Early Years (1966-1968), which focuses on the Springfield era. (Oddly, this disc is not available on CD, either separately or in the CD boxed set.) The inherent drama in the multiple movements of "Broken Arrow" (from '67's Buffalo Springfield Again) escalates as the track unfolds, Wall of Sound style: Dewey Martin's left-channel cymbal crashes ring true, and the ending "jazz theme" section swings with Jim Horn's clarinet and Don Randi's piano leading up to the outro's stark heartbeat. On this, the first Archives disc that offers previously released material, it's obvious that there's a level of clarity that's missing from the corresponding tracks on Young's catalog CDs.

In fact, the Blu-ray sonics had me relishing detail I hadn't noticed on songs I thought I knew by heart. On Disc 2, Topanga 1 (1968-1969), I was able to zero in on the character of each female backing vocalist on "I've Loved Her So Long" (from '68's Neil Young), the harmonies between Neil and his Crazy Horse mates and Billy Talbot's fat bass line on the formerly sludgy "Down by the River," and Ralph Molina's sibilant cymbal rides on "Cowgirl in the Sand" (the latter two from '69's Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere).

The tone shifts somewhat on Disc 3, Live at the Riverboat (Toronto 1969) - which, by the way, though never released until now, is earmarked as Vol. 01 in Young's separate, already growing line of historical CDs, the Archives Performance Series. This disc culls tracks from a few nights in T.O. on an early solo tour, and the vibe is decidedly coffeehouse all the way. It's a purely honest appearance, right down to the bum notes as Neil picks out the chords to "Expecting to Fly." (Tip: Be on the lookout for the "Le Hibou" Easter egg.)

Disc 4, Topanga 2 (1969-1970), encompasses a fertile period. The handclaps on "Cinnamon Girl" (also from Nowhere) resound with their patented on-the-beat punch, and I got a chill hearing "wooo" exclaimed in the left channel as the storied guitar solo began its gallop. The precision on Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's threatening-to-be-ragged "Sea of Madness" (from the first soundtrack to the 1969 Woodstock festival) is refreshing, as Graham's tenor and Neil's vocal shout blend nicely above Neil's organ lines.