Neil Young, ‘Before and After': Album Review
Neil Young has spent the better part of the past 15 years revisiting his past, excavating his vaults for live recordings, box sets and long-lost albums like Chrome Dreams (intended for release in 1977 but shelved until 2023). Along the way, he's also remastered and expanded many of his classic albums, all under the banner of the Neil Young Archives series. But he's never made an album like Before and After.
The 48-minute, 13-track set digs deep into his past for new re-recordings of songs from throughout his career, starting with Buffalo Springfield's 1966 album cut "Burned" and going all the way through "Don't Forget Love" from 2021's Crazy Horse collaboration Barn. It's all an absorbing if not necessary addition to his already extensive catalog.
Along the way, his journey through the past takes him to the 1974 obscurity "Homefires" (first released on 2020's Neil Young Archives Volume II: 1972–1976 box) and "I'm the Ocean" (from 1995's Pearl Jam team-up Mirror Ball) as well as to more familiar songs such as Buffalo Springfield's "Mr. Soul" and the title track from 1978's Comes a Time. And it's all delivered as a single, uninterrupted piece by Young accompanying himself on guitar, keyboards and harmonica.
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The new, more intimate setting won't change your perception of the songs. What these fresh takes offer, however, is another viewpoint on the works presented. Without the distorted guitars and bluster heard in its original version, "I'm the Ocean" transforms into an acoustic folk song that fits comfortably among any of Young's mid-'70s classics. Likewise, two songs from 1994's mournful Sleeps With Angels - "A Dream That Can Last" and "My Heart" - gain poignancy minus Crazy Horse's sparse but ragtag backing.
Before and After's relaxed, unbroken performance sometimes recalls Young's engaging concert appearances from early in his career, when armed with just acoustic guitar and occasional piano and harmonica, he'd flip through his playbook with charming confidence. That's most evident in "On the Way Home" - the Young-penned Buffalo Springfield song originally sung by Richie Furay that opened their final album, released after they broke up, and a favorite at early solo shows - which is immediately followed by Before and After's only unreleased song, "If You Got Love" slated for 1983's Trans but pulled at the last minute. Even at this stage, Young is finding new ways to rewrite his past.
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Gallery Credit: Michael Gallucci