Four months after the release of After the Gold Rush in the summer of 1970, Neil Young appeared solo at Washington, D.C.’s tiny Cellar Door club. This recording, taped over those three nights, collects 13 of his compositions, including “Cinnamon Girl,” “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” and “Birds.” It serves as a sort of familiar retrospective of his career up to that date and recalls Young’s somber sentimentality, his belief in romance, rhyme, and mythology. He seems wizened even as he sings “I Am a Child” from Buffalo Springfield’s Last Time Around recording and more like the person he addresses in his generational-identity anthem “Old Man,” also heard here. The images are often visual and taken from fantasy: “I dreamed I saw the knights in armor coming, singing something about a queen” (“After the Gold Rush”). Occasionally, they clash — “Sailing heart-ships through broken harbors out on waves of the night. Still the searcher must ride the dark horse” (“Tell Me Why”) — but all spring from an honest attempt to connect symbol and personal emotion. He seems comfortable with his shaky, not-quite-a-tenor voice, and the sound quality — he plays both guitar and piano — is surprisingly immediate. Frequent internal rhymes and his ability to coax a variety of moods from three chords make us recall why we loved him then. And still do.
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