Review: Neil Young - A Treasure

This time capsule is a solid example of country musicians rocking the barn down to the ground.
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Neil Young a treasureA Treasure is a live album from Neil Young and The International Harvesters. Taken from Young’s 1984 and 1985 U.S. tours back when artists toured just to tour and not just to support an album, the dozen tracks found here come when the iconic performer was experimenting with country music and facing off with Geffen Records in an ongoing legal battle.

In fact, Geffen sued Neil Young in 1984 because he apparently turned in a record that was found to be “uncharacteristic” and, horror of all horrors, “uncommercial.” That record was Old Ways and it was rejected by Geffen. A Treasure is essentially the “tour” for Old Ways.

Viewed in that context, there’s something interesting going on here. “I love this record,” Young says. “I hadn’t heard these takes in 25 years, but when we unearthed them co-producer Ben Keith said, ‘This is a treasure.’”

A Treasure is available in several formats, including standard CD, vinyl, digital download with or without associated video content, and in a deluxe CD/Blu-ray package that includes a curated selection of video. This review is for the standard CD.

The music really is like stepping into a time capsule of sorts. Young plays with some serious country legends, like Anthony Crawford (guitar, banjo, vocals), Rufus Thibodeaux (fiddle), Spooner Oldham (piano), Tim Drummond (bass), and more. Matraca Berg and Tracy Nelson provide backing vocals on “Nothing is Perfect,” while session piano and keyboard player Hargus “Pig” Robbins appears on three tracks.

What we have is a stripped-down, stomping set of country music from Neil Young and the aforementioned great musicians. There’s no questioning the energy and honesty of these songs. Young fans will want this in their collection as a reminder of how things were during a very difficult period for him, professionally and otherwise, and it should still do the trick for casual onlookers.

“Amber Jean” opens A Treasure. Named after Young’s third child, it really is a beautiful song. Keith’s work on lap slide guitar is terrific and Thibodeaux’s fiddle trades nicely with Oldham’s keys. “Every morning got sun to shine,” Young sings. “Every day got plenty of time.”

“Are You Ready for the Country?” shifts gears entirely. Recorded at the Riverbend Music Center in Cincinnati, this rollicking number showcases what A Treasure is really all about. The rocking interplay between the musicians springs from one ear to the other, piano dances with fiddle and Young lets it all hang out. “Alright Rufus,” he shouts right before the fiddler cuts loose to a roar from the crowd. “Long grain,” he calls out next as Keith tears through that gee-tar.

Moments like that are all over A Treasure, making it a record that belongs as much to the International Harvesters as it does to anyone else. Tracks like “Bound for Glory” and “Southern Pacific” allow the group to stretch out over some spacious arrangements, launching into traditional country territory with big smiles and bigger hearts.

So if good ol’ country music interplay is your thing and you’re into rare material, A Treasure will probably hit the spot. Released as volume nine in Young’s Archives Performance Series, this record is a standalone example of commitment to music and integrity in all things.