on September 25, 2003
Given Neil Young's huge catalog and its inclusion of so much acoustic material, you might think that 'unplugging' him would just amount to his doing a show of his acoustic songs. Well, that certainly would have been the easy way. But if Neil took the easy way, he wouldn't be the Neil we've come to know and love.
In fact, although there is a generous helping of material on this CD that was originally released in 'acoustic' form, there are also a number of surprises. For this show, Neil took several highly non-'acoustic' songs and converted them.
One of my favorites is his bluesy, wailing version of 'Mr. Soul'. Originally a Buffalo Springfield tune, this time it's just Neil with his guitar and harmonica. I also like the stripped-down, countryfolkified performances of 'Old Laughing Lady' and 'World on a String'.
And wait until you hear what he's done with 'Transformer Man'. Even if you didn't like it before, you may like it now.
There's also 'Like a Hurricane', a blistering rocker originally released on _American Stars 'n' Bars_ (which, incidentally, is now available on CD at last!). Here Neil performs it solo, accompanying himself on pump organ.
This show took place not long after the release of the magnificent _Harvest Moon_, so there are a couple of selections from that album. And the rest is what you'd expect -- a set of solid performances of old and new favorites, some well-known and some obscure, from all stages of Neil's long career. "The Needle and the Damage Done', 'Look Out for My Love', 'Long May You Run' -- this stuff is never going to wear out its welcome.
One last highlight: Neil also does a fine tune called 'Stringman' (which I suspect is about Stephen Stills); I don't believe I'd ever heard it, or even heard _of_ it, before this release.
on July 23, 2002
Although Neil Young is almost universally considered one of the finest rock songwriters, he has an almost perversely huge back catalog (several of which have never been released on CD), more than a few uneven albums, and a self-imposed lack of anthologies. Young, who has always alternated between blistering, grunge-inciting guitar noise riots and gentle, acousitc folk in his own music, was a natural choice - indeed, you might even say a forebearer - for MTV's Unplugged program. Unlike many other veteran rockers (say, Dylan) who chose to offer up a "Greatest Hits" sort of set when their turn on Unplugged came, Neil's selections veer across his entire career, seeming almost arbitrary at times. Although there are some of his more prominent acoustic numbers here (The Needle And The Damage Done, Pocahontas) as well as several numbers from his most recent album at the time, Harvest Moon, there are also tracks dating back to his Buffalo Springfield days and his first solo album, as well as some definitely obscure numbers (Transformer Man, which was completely remade in this acoustic setting; the previously unreleased Stringman, and others.) It is a neat deal and quite a treat for the Young fan to see him perform such a wide cross section of material. Several songs are completely remade in this acoustic context (Mr. Soul, Transformer Man), and many others have already mentioned the standout pump organ/harmonica-led version of Like A Hurricane. This is an essential purchase for the Neil Young fan, and, in point of fact, not a bad early pick for the neophyte.
on April 30, 2002
While there are more than enough individual tracks dotted around his huge number of recordings to justify Neil Young's major reputation there are only a few albums that, on their own, hold together as satisfyingly complete "works". And... in the (self imposed) absence of any sensible retrospectives since 1977's "Decade" (definitely the best place to start for any "casual buyer") those not "in the know" could be in for some seriously expensive mistakes. So, what's been worth the money since then? Well...for anyone looking for the mellower side of this brilliantly mercurial but annoyingly erratic artist here's a few suggestions: "Comes a Time" (1978), "Freedom" (1989), "Harvest Moon" (1992) and "Unplugged" (1995).
"Unplugged", a review of some of his best tracks from the previous 25 years, takes this often tired format to its highest levels. Opening with "The Old Laughing Lady" (a wonderfully laid-back acoustic re-working of a stand-out track from his first solo album) and followed by a beautifully low-key version of his Buffalo Springfield hit "Mr Soul", the album just flows from start to finish. And... on the way through you get arguably better versions than the original outings of "Pocahontas", "Harvest Moon", "Look Out for My Love" & "Transformer Man". Played and sung with the sincerity of an artist who wants to deliver a cohesive retrospective of his career, and impressive in that it avoids revisiting many of his better known, more obvious choices, this is mellow music at its very best and an album that leaves you feeling... happy. Money well spent!
on May 8, 2001
Neil Young was unplugged before the MTV show become a phenomenon, so it was only natural that he make an appearance on the show. As usual, Mr. Young mixes up his set, playing new songs like "From Hank To Hendrix" and the sweet "Harvest Moon" to old chestnuts like the Buffalo Springfield's "Mr. Soul" and "The Old Laughing Lady" from his first solo album. While many of the songs like "The Needle & The Damage Done" & the brilliant "Pocahontas" were acoustic to begin with, there are songs that go under some radical transformations. "Like A Hurricane" was a fuzz guitar heavy, sonic blast, but here it is propelled by only Mr. Young's voice and an eerie pump organ. The results are outstanding. "Transformer Man" is from his electronic album, Trans, and the vocals were distorted by a vocoder. In it's acoustic form, it takes on a weird perspective with its futuristic lyrics. "Helpless" is absolutely gorgeous with lush harmonies led by old Crazy Horse member and current E Streeter, Nils Lofgren. Unplugged is one of the better album taken from the show and shows Neil Young's chameleon like ability to transform songs into different styles.
on January 24, 2001
Yes, the best folk album of Young's career came not in 1970, not in 1972 or '78, not back when people under the age of 30 could still tell you all about Neil Young, but in 1993, ironically released exactly twenty years after an album called Time Fades Away. Oh, no, it sure doesn't, Neil. Perhaps time seemed to be fading away in the 80's, but it all seems to represent the very same glorious moment here on this pristine, immaculately produced folk reminiscence, which still stands as the best MTV Unplugged album of them all.
This album's brilliance is manifest in the wealth of successfully executed contemporary renditions of old classics and "fazed cookies," as The Rolling Stones once put it. Neil breathes fresh electricity into songs some thirty years old, such as Old Laughing Lady, featured in a much less affecting form on his late-60's debut record; the obscure Transformer Man from 1982's baffling electronic experiment, Trans, sounds like one of Neil's most tactful pieces in its new acoustic skin; Like A Hurricane is resurrected in all its magnificence, as Neil beats it out of an organ that bellows like a hungry lion. It is perhaps the album's most unforgettable moment, though there are many here.
The Harvest Moon selections sound even fresher than their studio counterparts in this live setting, and The Needle and the Damage Done reminds all of us as to why Neil Young's name is graven on the hearts of millions. This is not an album, it is a timeless epic, a folk festival that should be experienced in every household.
on May 29, 2004
This album is probably the best acoustic performance Neil has done in awhile. Everyone knows this is a great album. I just want to clarify that the version of "Mr. Soul" on this album is the way he ORIGINALLY wrote it. He did not remake this song...the Buffalo did that in the 60's. So there's a little more incentive for you to buy this record.
on February 10, 2002
This is one of those rare CDs that's great to put on anytime, whether you're down, tired, or happy. It flows perfectly from "The Old Laughing Lady" right through "From Hank To Hendrix." "Mr. Soul" sounds great here recast as a mellow dirge, "Stringman," a soft ode to a friend who's seen better times (reportedly Stephen Stills, circa 1976) is a fabulous addition to the Neil cannon, and enough good cannot be said about the organ driven "Like A Hurricane." That said, plus a host of other Young essentials, such as "Harvest Moon" and "Helpless" to name yet two more, this album is a must-have.
on August 29, 2003
The tense atmosphere of this acoustic performance(Created undoubtedly by Young himself as he barely exchanges a word with his wooed audience) works well on haunting numbers like the brilliant 'Pocahontas' and 'Mr Soul'. The one sour point is that he didn't play some of his more upbeat country numbers to lighten the atmosphere. '' I hear myself sing like a long lost friend'' whines Young on 'Hank to Hendrix' pretty much summing up this performance-Dark, depressing but irresistably brilliant.
Good work Neil, but relax and lighten up just a tad!
on August 11, 1998
Neil Young appeared on MTV's "Unplugged" series after the release of his "Harvest Moon" album. Like that album, "Unplugged" definitely puts firm emphasis on Neil's mellow side, which in this case yields beautiful results. The material spans the artist's whole career, from Buffalo Springfield (a haunting, stripped-down "Mr. Soul") to his early solo triumphs ("The Old Laughing Lady," "The Needle And The Damage Done"), from CSN&Y ("Helpless") to the mid-'70s "dark" period ("World On A String"), from the Crazy Horse guitar hero days (a radically reworked "Like A Hurricane") to the then-current "Harvest Moon" period (several tracks). My personal gripe is that there's no material from 1974's "On The Beach" (tell me "Ambulance Blues" wouldn't have made this a five-star disc), but the beautiful acoustic reading of the previously electronic "! Transformer Man," from the much-maligned "Trans" album, makes up for it: the performance casts a familiar song in a refreshingly new light, always a neat trick if you can pull it off. (The previously unreleased "Stringman" is also a nice bonus.) Neil is alone for part of the show, until he is joined by pals including Nils Lofgren, Ben Keith, Tim Drummond, Nicolette Larson, and Young's sister, Astrid Young. All do quite well, especially during a take of "Harvest Moon" that is actually more beautiful than the album version (which is saying a lot).
on May 9, 2000
It boggles the mind when you realise that Neil Young has been composing classics since 1966,and that he constantly tries to find ways to make them sound fresh and new.UNPLUGGED gives us a great example of this.Young finds new ways to showcase songs like:LIKE A HURRICANE,MR.SOUL,OLD LAUGHING LADY,LONG MAY YOU RUN and HELPLESS.Young turns POCAHONTUS and STRINGMAN into requiems;for the American Indian and Sephen Stills,respectively.He pulls out buried gems to add on to the setlist: WORLD ON A STRING(from TONIGHT'S THE NIGHT)and LOOK OUT FOR MY LOVE(from COMES A TIME).The best songs from HARVEST MOON are showcased:HARVEST MOON,UNKNOWN LEGEND and FROM HANK TO HENDRIX.If you need any prove that Neil Young is still worthy of the title "genius",then UNPLUGGED should convince any doubters.