Best New Albums 2013 – #15: Neil Young and the Ducks – Santa Cruz, 1977

Running through the end of the month (with a short Christmas break), I’ll be running a post each weekday taking a look at one of my top 20 albums of the year, slowly working my way down to number one. Some I’ve reviewed previously for Bearded Gentlemen Music – I’ll provide links where necessary – and the entire list will eventually end up there, too. But for most of these records, this is the first time I’m writing about them at length, making this a chance to explain my choices in a little greater detail. Last year’s list is no longer online, but for 2011’s Best Canadian Music click here and for 2010’s list, click here.

#15: Neil Young and the Ducks – Santa Cruz 1977 (No label)

Earlier this year, I wrote about the Neil Young fan compilation Sad Movies. Basically, it’s a mix of material that never appeared on a proper release. There was a couple obscure and long out of print singles, but generally it’s that old bootleg standby: the audience recording.

Two tracks I singled out there was also among the rougher sounding ones: Little Wing and Windward Journey. Both came, I believe, from the same audience tape of a  Ducks performance in summer of 1977. It might be the only tape circulating, I’m not completely sure. Until this year, anyway.

Sometime in the summer, four CDs worth of soundboard recordings of the Ducks leaked into trading circles. I always take claims like this with a little grain of salt – many enterprising bootleggers have repackaged old material as new – but this seems like the real deal: a clean, crispy recording of Neil Young’s most overlooked period.

Little Wing is here, sounding a lot like something left over from Zuma. So is Windward Passage, although it’s the victim of an unfortunate edit (a reel change maybe?).  There’s a lot more, too. There’s a roaring version of Mr Soul where Young’s guitar sounds on the verge of meltdown, a rocking version of Human Highway and a bluesy take of Long May You Run, Young’s ode to his hearse. I’m only scratching the surface here, folks.

For Young diehards, it’s an essential bootleg. And even for casual fans, I think it’s a good jumping-in point for the world of bootlegs, too. These songs were well-recorded (I wonder if they came from Young’s own copies?) and the performances are off the charts. In a year where Young released yet another early 70s acoustic gig, a tape like this supplies the other side of his music. You’ll have to Google around for this one, but it comes recommended.




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