The biggest problem with Neil Young's recent spate of archival live releases is that he's already put out so many anthologies and concert recordings that the new issues risk redundancy simply by existing. Sure, "It's all one song," as the man himself once put it (on 1997's Year Of The Horse—a live album, of course), but hearing every version is a fanatic's game.
Sugar Mountain: Live At Canterbury House 1968 in some ways typifies this. The performances, captured over two November nights at the University Of Michigan, are intimate, clear (the two-track recording is very good), and obviously felt. It's got historical value, too, as Young's first solo performances following his departure from Buffalo Springfield. "I never plan anything ahead, in case anybody hasn't noticed," he says while introducing his early song "Sugar Mountain." For those who adore Young for his spontaneity, the winding, often wry between-song monologues have documentary value.
Much of the time, though, those "raps" meander—a good fifth of Sugar Mountain's 70-minute run time is devoted to them, and their replay value is limited. Which is too bad—the performances are excellent. Young sounds so, well, youthful: appealingly gawky, exuberant, but also a little bashful, emotionally naked while still in command. (His delivery gives new clarity to the cryptic opening lines of "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing": "Hey, who's that stomping all over my face? Where's that silhouette I tried to trace?") But Young the songwriter was only just getting started, so while Sugar Mountain is pretty sweet, the highest peaks were yet to come.