Live at the Cellar Door is the latest in a series of releases of archival material from Neil Young. This one captures songs from six sets Young did in three nights at The Cellar Door club in Washington, D.C. in late November and early December of 1970. It captures Young at what many consider the peak of his songwriting and performing days. Here, it’s just the musician alone with his guitar and piano, singing some of his strongest songs in an intimate venue for a subdued but appreciative crowd.
Seldom has a performer’s voice so suited his material. This performance took place just a few months after the release of After the Gold Rush and includes five songs from that classic album. It also contains a few Buffalo Springfield songs, including “Expecting to Fly:” There is even a version of “Old Man,” one of Young’s most beloved songs which was not released until two years after this performance, in 1972 on Harvest.
It is delightful to hear these songs in these stripped-down, honest and very touching live versions. The sound quality is excellent and there are some lovely surprises, like “Cinnamon Girl” accompanied by piano rather than guitar. Young is a musician whose words matter, and the lack of a band gives a special emphasis to spine-tingling songs like “Only Love Can Break Your Heart, ” “Old Man,” “After the Gold Rush,” and “Down By the River.”
This is definitely the sort of album where every fan will have their own favorites. My personal favorite is “Flying on the Ground Is Wrong,” the last song on the CD (and another one he previously did with Buffalo Springfield). It is preceded by the only fairly lengthy bit of talk from Young, in which he sounds impossibly young – he was 25 at the time – and displays a sense of humor and good nature that show a side of the man that sometimes got ignored in later years. Aside from this bit, there is very little chatter on the CD and this provides just enough to get a sense of the performer without disrupting the flow of the music.
This CD will be a treat for every Neil Young fan and will serve as a reminder, should anyone need it, of just what a great singer-songwriter and poet he has been, even from the fairly early days of his decades-long career.