I've been spinning the new Neil Young Archives series CD's (wishing they'd been issued on vinyl) and I like them.
In case you've been wondering what these 35 and 36 year old live recordings are like, I'll just start by saying "remarkably clean."
I'm actually kind of shocked at how pristine they sound.
Great song selection, too.
On the acoustic Massey Hall set, the dynamic range is amazingly well preserved. Whoever recorded that show did a killer job of leaving headroom a surprisingly dynamic vocal performance. Neil really belts it on a few cuts, and the impression I get from the recording is that there was infinite space available if he'd wanted to go even louder. This disc sets a good example (in the popular idiom) of creating a sense of limitless range, if it had been required. There's no hardening of the sound as the peaks hit. You just get a feeling of "yeah, I can go wherever these vocals want to, no problem."
Every cut is enjoyable. Good enough to maybe seduce a civilian unfamiliar with Neil, and a sure fire woodrow for any pre-existing Neil fan.
Very clean vocals, and his guitar is so well recorded it actually gives you a sense of this guy being in utter command of how he wants things to sound.
The recording reminds me of how much I enjoy the sound of his voice, too.
I have no qualms about the "fidelity" part of this release.
The only downer is that the imaging is mentally like watching a DVD, only without the visuals.
Neil and his guitar image large and "up front." Which is OK, but there's not much in the way of hall ambience, and the sound is more "documentary" than anything else.
The imaging perspective doesn't really correlate with any live experience. Even if you were sitting five feet in front of him, I don't think it would've sounded like that. So, what you get is a kind of "hyper real recorded" sensation more than feeling like any space is being recreated.
Imaging is flat and forward, and stays completely centered, which is OK, I love it, it's just not anything you'd have ever experienced seeing him live.
These, of course, are "sound board" recordings, and they have that great dynamic and cleanliness that you'd expect, but also lack the things you'd expect, too.
They are very similar to other sound board recordings.
Crowd noise is mixed a little high, and can cause a few "that's disproportionately loud cringes" relative to the performance, but all in all, it's an amazingly good sounding disc.
My quibbles are minor in relation to the joy of hearing the event so well preserved.
The Fillmore East disc is also amazingly clean, but the dynamics are a bit more compressed. The drums don't go all the way up, if you know what I mean. There's also some overload of the mics or whatever that adds a moment of Cccchhhh to the start of some vocal phrases.
Still, lotsa sonic info and great detail on the guitar parts - really well delineated.
Also, great song selection, and great to hear the Crazy Horse electric cuts on this disc to compare to the solo acoustic versions of the same songs on the Massey Hall disc. (Down By The River and Cowgirl in the Sand are in common.)
I actually prefer the electric version of both.
The crowd noise is mixed lower on the Fillmore disc.
If you've heard any of the Wolfgang's Vault recordings, they are of a kind.
Again, close mic'd and no hall ambience or anything, but the Fillmore disc, especially, makes you feel like you're an insider hearing something no one else can.
The performances on both discs are great, truly representative of both sides of Neil's "schizophrenic acoustic/electric ouvre dichotomy," even before he really had it set.
I'd highly recommend both discs, and I'm now going to be addicted to the whole series.