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Neil Young Archives: Volume 1(1963-1972)
This is the first volume of the Neil Young Archives series of box sets, produced by Neil Young himself. This series is the definitive, comprehensive, chronological survey of his entire body of work. Volume I covers the period from his earliest recordings with the Squires in Winnipeg, 1963, through to his classic 1972 album, Harvest and beyond, including studio and live tracks with the legendary Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and Neil Young with Crazy Horse.
For more about Neil Young Archives: Volume 1 and the Neil Young Archives: Volume 1 Blu-ray release, see Neil Young Archives: Volume 1 Blu-ray Review published by Greg Maltz on June 14, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 5.0 out of 5.
Neil Young Archives: Volume 1 Blu-ray Review
The long-awaited archives of Neil Young's classic 1963-72 period is available in 24-bit 192-kHz digital audio...finally!
Reviewed by Greg Maltz, June 14, 2009
Neil Young Archives: Volume 1 was more than a decade coming--a release in search of a medium. The ideal vehicle for the set proves to be Blu-ray, and Young himself has an entire page on his website explaining why. "The sound and picture quality is unparalleled. It is the highest definition available and allows you to get more detail in the listening and viewing experience." Couldn't have said it better myself. As good as the audio and video are, the box goes beyond music and concert footage and sets a high watermark for the way artists can connect with their fans and collectors. The depth and breadth of content included is illuminating and impressive. Few Neil Young fans are aware of some of the material included here, such as a killer, previously unreleased version of the rare song, "Bad Fog of Loneliness" with solid backing by The Stray Gators, the band featured on Harvest.
At its essence, Archives Volume 1 is a very intimate look at Young's early career. Sometimes the included video and pictorial content, along with the artwork and other archival material, seems too personal. But then I remember that personal connection is what Neil Young's music is all about. His early songs themselves are often nakedly emotional with messages about love, loss, loneliness and longing. His vocals in the upper register are disarming, with heavy emotional impact. So the personal nature of the video and photo archives matches that of the songwriting. To put all this content together in one box is a crowning achievement, by emphasizing the remastering and presenting the immense volume of material with excellent attention to detail. It is even more amazing to realize that another 35 years worth of Young's career awaits archival treatment for release in a subsequent archives box.
Many fans were skeptical of the set because of the numerous cancellations and the time we all had to wait. Others lamented the box's emphasis on material already available. But seeing and hearing the contents, the skepticism is soon put to rest. When I first got the set I realized what a serious project Neil Young Archives: Volume 1 really is. After tearing the shrinkwrap off the gargantuan box and perusing the packaging and 12 discs that are included (10 Blu-rays, one CD and one DVD, featuring the concert at Canterbury House), I decide there is no reason to start at the beginning--a disc of very early and mostly inconsequential tracks that will be of interest to fanatics and serious collectors. Instead, I remove disc 4 from its mini-LP style sleeve and slide it into the Playstation 3.
I click the controller to play the first track and suddenly I find myself back in 1969 with Danny Whitten (guitar) Billy Talbot (bass) and Ralph Molina (drums). The rugged backing of Crazy Horse churns away with hand-claps and a hard rock rhythm that shapes itself into a driving vamp set against a basic melody. Neil Young's own distortion-laden Gibson Les Paul is clearly audible in the mix--a riff instantly recognizable as Cinnamon Girl. I've heard this tune countless times on radio, vinyl, CD and even at a couple of Young's concerts. But as I feasted my ears on the lossless PCM delivering rich guitar cords, hi-hat shots, tight bass and those trademark, gentle vocals by Young and Whitten, it was like hearing Cinnamon Girl for the first time.
An audio purist, vinyl-head and general advocate of high resolution digital, Young took great care in preparing his early material for this set. That's why he had all the music remastered and authored to Blu-ray in not just 24-bit word length, but 192-kHz sampling. His fans have waited a long time for the high definition goods, and with the advent of Blu-ray Young felt the time was right to deliver. Given how long the archives have been in coming--the numerous rumors, announcements and delays--it is perfectly understandable that initial stock of the set sold out at Amazon in less than 10 days. Luckily, I ordered in time for one of the initial shipments.
From the first guitar riff I hear, it becomes immediately apparent why this set is selling out. If Neil Young's early material through Harvest isn't already in your library--or even if it s and you have a system capable of resolving the differences between 16-bit, 44.1-kHz CD quality and 24-bit 192-kHz remasters--you need Archives Volume 1. Actually, any Young fan would be well advised to seek this out. Even if you do already have the material and your stereo system can't distinguish between CD and high resolution digital audio, serious fans of Neil Young should seriously consider investing in this set. What a fantastic way to rediscover the early output of one of rock's greatest rock artists.
Neil Young's early career can be approached in the context of Bob Dylan's enormous influence. Dylan spawned many disciples, from singer-songwriters like Paul Simon, Cat Stevens and James Taylor to rockers like Bruce Springsteen, Mark Knopfler, Donald Fagen and even Jimi Hendrix. All credit Dylan with inspiring their songwriting and vocal style. But of all the Dylan disciples, Neil Young had the longest and arguably the most successful career. Early on, he shamelessly channeled Dylan, as in the nine-minute 25-second The Last Trip to Tulsa from his self-titled debut. Even before that, Young's career had taken off with his first breakthroughs in the legendary band Buffalo Springfield. He collaborated with the supergroup Crosby, Stills and Nash, further assuring his status as one of the premier rockers and singer songwriters.
Young's high-pitched, plaintive vocals and songsmithing skills earned him a succession of hits, radio staples, chart-climbing albums and a dedicated fan base. By the end of the '60s, he was recording edgier rock with heavy riffs that eventually earned him the nickname "Godfather of Grunge" and spawned disciples of his own, such as Pearl Jam and Nirvana. But like the constantly changing Bob Dylan, Young is versatile. He appears equally at home in country-twinged 3/4 waltzes with evocative peddle steel guitar as he was in hard rock or a solo acoustic setting. The versatility served him well in the dramatic world of rock. Guitarist Danny Whitten of Crazy Horse died in an overdose on November 18, 1972, and Neil sought to minimize the time he wasted dealing with addicts when it came to music. As Whitten's heavy drug use affected the recording of After the Gold Rush, Young created a new group with a country-western feel called The Stray Gators, with whom he recorded Harvest. And that is where volume 1 of the archives leave off.
The Neil Young Archives is a project that Young and Warner Music have been discussing for well over a decade as the "definitive, comprehensive, chronological survey of his entire body of work." Covering Young's output from 1963 to 1972, volume 1 includes his earliest recordings with a Canadian band called The Squires; his output with Buffalo Springfield (a band that also features Steve Stills and Jim Messina); the subsequent collaborations with Crosby, Stills and Nash; a couple of concerts that have recently been released; his classic solo albums, including his self-titled debut, his collaborations with Crazy Horse on Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and After the Goldrush and with the Stray Gators on Harvest; a few rare and unreleased tracks; and the promise of even more material downloadable and made available only through BD-Live capability.
All 128 tracks worth of this content is available on nine Blu-ray discs in 24-bit 192 kHz two-channel stereo PCM. Each disc comes in its own mini-LP style sleeve with custom artwork, all housed in a case that fits into the humongous box. Twelve of the tracks are hidden and nearly 60 have never been released before--including alternate versions, mixes and previously unreleased songs. The discs do not follow Young's beloved albums, and unfortunately there is no way to play the tracks in their originally released sequence. At least not that I could figure out by the time this review was published. The exact discography of Archives Volume 1 is outlined below.
The Early Years (1963-1965)
1. Aurora (The Squires) from the 45 RPM single (mono)
2. The Sultan (The Squires) from the 45 RPM single (mono)
3. I Wonder (The Squires) previously unreleased song (mono)
4. Mustang (The Squires) previously unreleased instrumental (mono)
5. I'll Love You Forever (The Squires) previously unreleased song (mono)
6. (I'm A Man And) I Can't Cry (The Squires) previously unreleased song (mono)
7. Hello Lonely Woman (Neil Young & Comrie Smith) previously unreleased version
8. Casting Me Away From You (Neil Young & Comrie Smith) previously unreleased song
9. There Goes My Babe (Neil Young & Comrie Smith) previously unreleased song
10. Sugar Mountain (Neil Young) previously unreleased demo version (mono)
11. Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing (Neil Young) previously unreleased demo version (mono)
12. Runaround Babe (Neil Young) previously unreleased song (mono)
13. The Ballad Of Peggy Grover (Neil Young) previously unreleased song (mono)
14. The Rent Is Always Due (Neil Young) previously unreleased song (mono)
15. Extra, Extra (Neil Young) previously unreleased song (mono)
The Early Years (1966-1968)
1. Flying On The Ground Is Wrong (Neil Young) from the Buffalo Springfield Box Set (mono)
2. Burned (Buffalo Springfield) from the album Buffalo Springfield (mono)
3. Out Of My Mind (Buffalo Springfield) from the album Buffalo Springfield (mono)
4. Down, Down, Down (Neil Young) previously unreleased version (mono)
5. Kahuna Sunset (Buffalo Springfield) from the Buffalo Springfield Box Set (mono)
6. Mr. Soul (Buffalo Springfield) from the Buffalo Springfield Box Set (mono)
7. Sell Out (Buffalo Springfield) previously unreleased song (mono)
8. Down To The Wire (Neil Young) from the album Decade (mono)
9. Expecting To Fly (Buffalo Springfield) from the album Buffalo Springfield
10. Slowly Burning (Neil Young) previously unreleased instrumental
11. One More Sign (Neil Young) from the Buffalo Springfield Box Set
12. Broken Arrow (Buffalo Springfield) from the album Buffalo Springfield Again
13. I Am A Child (Buffalo Springfield) from the album Last Time Around
Topanga 1 (1968-1969)
1. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (Neil Young) from the stereo promotional 45 RPM single-second pressing
2. The Loner (Neil Young) from the album Neil Young
3. Birds (Neil Young) previously unreleased version
4. What Did You Do To My Life? (Neil Young) previously unreleased mix
5. The Last Trip To Tulsa (Neil Young) from the album Neil Young
6. Here We Are In The Years (Neil Young) from the album Neil Youngsecond version
7. I've Been Waiting For You (Neil Young) previously unreleased mix
8. The Old Laughing Lady (Neil Young) from the album Neil Young
9. I've Loved Her So Long (Neil Young) from the album Neil Young
10. Sugar Mountain (Neil Young) previously unreleased stereo master
11. Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing (Neil Young) previously unreleased live version
12. Down By The River (Neil Young with Crazy Horse) from the album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
13. Cowgirl In The Sand (Neil Young with Crazy Horse) from the album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
14. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (Neil Young with Crazy Horse) from the album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
Live at the Riverboat (Toronto 1969)
1. Sugar Mountain (Neil Young) previously unreleased live version
2. The Old Laughing Lady (Neil Young) previously unreleased live version
3. Flying On The Ground Is Wrong (Neil Young) previously unreleased live version
4. On The Way Home (Neil Young) previously unreleased live version
5. I've Loved Her So Long (Neil Young) previously unreleased live version
6. I Am A Child (Neil Young) previously unreleased live version
7. 1956 Bubblegum Disaster (Neil Young) previously unreleased song
8. The Last Trip To Tulsa (Neil Young) previously unreleased live version
9. Broken Arrow (Neil Young) previously unreleased live version
10. Whiskey Boot Hill (Neil Young) previously unreleased live version
11. Expecting To Fly (Neil Young) previously unreleased live version
Topanga 2 (1969-1970)
1. Cinnamon Girl (Neil Young with Crazy Horse) from the album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
2. Running Dry (Requiem For The Rockets) (Neil Young with Crazy Horse) from the album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
3. Round And Round (It Won't Be Long) (Neil Young with Crazy Horse) from the album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
4. Oh Lonesome Me (Neil Young with Crazy Horse) previously unreleased stereo mix 5. Birds (Neil Young with Crazy Horse) from the 45 RPM single (mono)
6. Everybody's Alone (Neil Young with Crazy Horse) Previously unreleased song
7. I Believe In You (Neil Young with Crazy Horse) from the album After The Gold Rush
8. Sea Of Madness (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) from the original soundtrack album Woodstock
9. Dance Dance Dance (Neil Young with Crazy Horse) previously unreleased version
10. Country Girl (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) from the album Dιjΰ Vu
11. Helpless (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) previously unreleased mix
12. It Might Have Been (Neil Young with Crazy Horse) previously unreleased live version
Neil Young and Crazy Horse Live at the Fillmore East (New York 1970)
1. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
3. Down By The River
5. Come On Baby, Let's Go Downtown
6. Cowgirl In The Sand
all previously released live versions
Topanga 3 (1970)
1. Tell Me Why (Neil Young) from the album After The Gold Rush
2. After The Gold Rush (Neil Young) from the album After The Gold Rush
3. Only Love Can Break Your Heart (Neil Young) from the album After The Gold Rush
4. Wonderin' (Neil Young) previously unreleased version
5. Don't Let It Bring You Down (Neil Young) from the album After The Gold Rush-first pressing
6. Cripple Creek Ferry (Neil Young) from the album After The Gold Rush
7. Southern Man (Neil Young) from the album After The Gold Rush
8. Till The Morning Comes (Neil Young) from the album After The Gold Rush
9. When You Dance, I Can Really Love (Neil Young with Crazy Horse) from the album After The Gold Rush-first pressing
10. Ohio (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) from the stereo 45 RPM single
11. Only Love Can Break Your Heart (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) previously unreleased live version
12. Tell Me Why (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) previously unreleased live version
13. Music Is Love (David Crosby, Graham Nash & Neil Young) from the album If I Could Only Remember My Name
14. See The Sky About To Rain (Neil Young) previously unreleased live version
Live at Massey Hall (Toronto 1971)
1. On The Way Home
2. Tell Me Why
3. Old Man
4. Journey Through The Past
6. Love In Mind
7. A Man Needs A Maid/Heart Of Gold (Suite)
8. Cowgirl In The Sand
9. Don't Let It Bring You Down
10. There's A World
11. Bad Fog Of Loneliness
12. The Needle And The Damage Done
14. See The Sky About To Rain
15. Down By The River
16. Dance Dance Dance
17. I Am A Child
all previously released live versions
North Country (1971-1972)
1. Heart Of Gold (Neil Young) previously unreleased live version
2. The Needle And The Damage Done (Neil Young) from the album Harvest
3. Bad Fog Of Loneliness (Neil Young with The Stray Gators) previously unreleased version
4. Old Man (Neil Young with The Stray Gators) from the album Harvest
5. Heart Of Gold (Neil Young with The Stray Gators) from the album Harvest
6. Dance Dance Dance (Neil Young) previously unreleased version
7. A Man Needs A Maid (Neil Young with the London Symphony Orchestra) previously unreleased mix
8. Harvest (Neil Young with The Stray Gators) from the album Harvest
9. Journey Through The Past (Neil Young with The Stray Gators) previously unreleased version
10. Are You Ready For The Country? (Neil Young with The Stray Gators) from the album Harvest
11. Alabama (Neil Young with The Stray Gators) from the album Harvest
12. Words (Between The Lines Of Age) (Neil Young with The Stray Gators) from the original soundtrack album Journey Through The Past
13. Soldier (Neil Young) previously unreleased mix
14. War Song (Neil Young & Graham Nash with The Stray Gators) from the 45 RPM single (mono)
Beyond the Music
But there's much more to the set than meets the ear. The nine Blu-rays also include: 20 special feature videos, film clips and film trailers; 55 audio-only tracks of rare interviews, radio spots and concert banter; an assortment of interactive features such as image galleries of archival photos, news clippings, manuscripts, other documents, biographies, tour dates, complete lyrics and an interactive timeline that guides you through Young's life and career in a lot of detail. The set also contains Young's first film--Journey Through The Past--available for the first time since its original theatrical release in 1973, included on disc 10. The film is has been meticulously transferred to 1080p and features DTS 5.1 surround and 24-bit, 96 Khz two-channel PCM tracks as well as archival materials, also on disc 10. In fact, all of the 10 Blu-ray discs deliver at least some 1080p content.
Another layer of video and images include photographs, concert footage and camcorder-style impromptu rap sessions. Some of this material is not easily navigated and even a bit hidden. For example, two 1.33:1 interviews are accessible by clicking the light switch in the "more" section of the Topanga 1 disc. Similar content as released by clicking a microphone in the menu page of the North Country disc. These sequences come from an NTSC camera source, of course, but Young did the best he could with the source material available to him. The attention to detail in video production is overall almost as good as the audio.
Rounding out the set is a "digital download card" housed in the impressively designed box and another important keepsake, a 236-page faux leather-bound full color book. The download card allows access to MP3 versions of all 128 audio tracks of the set, while the book includes Young's sketches and original lyrics he scribbled, a tapes database, news clippings, detailed descriptions of the music and artwork and more. Also in the set is a tapes database. The discs in their sleeves are housed in a custom holder. Another container includes Young's recently released CD+DVD set, "Live at the Canterbury House 1968". So technically it's a 12-disc box. There is also a funny little note pad from the Whisky-a-Go-Go, a prominent LA nightclub when Young first hit the scene there.
Yes, the set is expensive--prohibitively so. Some can't even justify spending $300 on a Blu-ray player, let alone a single title. But for everything you get, the box is actually a good deal. Even for high-definition remasters of Young's most beloved tracks in and of themselves, the Blu-ray set might just be a steal at its formidable list price. I recommend serious fans of his music grab this box now, in case it goes out of print for good. That would be a real shame. Let's hope it sticks around and sets the standard for other artists to empty their archives into our Blu-ray libraries.
Not Quite Comprehensive
There is some room for criticism in the way the box is put together and even in the track selection. While billed as comprehensive, it's not. For example, the intimate song "Helpless", one of Young's best known, is only represented in the set as an alternate mix. As enchanting as this mix may be, there is plenty of room on the disc to also include the version that fans know from the CSNY album Deja Vu. Likewise, my personal favorite song that Young performs with CS&N, "On the Way Home", is unavailable in its best version. The song appears twice in the set--both versions live in Toronto (from '69 at The Riverboat and '71 at Massey Hall). But nowhere is the incredible version from Four Way Street included, with the lush backing vocals of Crosby and Nash. The version of "Ohio" on Four Way Street is not included either.
Maybe Young doesn't have rights to include these tracks in his archives, but it does put into question whether the set can be marketed as "comprehensive". Four Way Street was originally released in 1971, making it fair game for this set encompassing Young's output through 1972. Admittedly, these are minor nits to pick, and these missing versions could indeed surface via the set's BD-Live capabilities accessible through each disc's timeline feature. But the omissions are important to point out nevertheless.
Digging into the Box
A few words should be said about the packaging and the box itself. The first thing you'll notice is it's big. You're not going to be keeping this on the shelf with your other Blu-rays. The box is fully 12 inches tall and about 7.5 inches deep and 7.5 inches wide. The second thing you'll notice is the box is sturdy. This isn't like Warner's flimsy Casablanca packaging and it's less hokey and less cluttered than the Harry Potter Years 1-5 box. It's a labor of love. One look at the book will show you why, and the contents of each disc have a similarly thought-out feel and design.
But there is room for criticism. The discs are housed in a pullout box that cracks open in the middle. Packed inside are the 10 Blu-ray discs in their sleeves. Getting the sleeves out is tricky. I have small fingers and I couldn't grab any one sleeve to pull it out without risking damage to the cardboard by pinching it too hard. The sleeves are really stuck in there. You have to pull all five out from each side to grab the one you want. Even once you have the sleeve, the Blu-ray disc doesn't easily slide out. You will have to grab the edge and pull it. For a $300 package, one would have wished for a more elegant design to simplify access to and protection of each disc. I'll be reaching for this music often, and each time I do it will be a chore to deal with the box unless I decide to keep the discs in a different case.
When it comes to the nine discs containing the 24-bit 192-kHz tracks, the music is what's important, and it sounds damn good. But the video included on these discs will raise some eyebrows. Unless you enjoy watching vinyl spin around on a turntable, which is not unlike watching water boil, you will probably want to turn off your display. Full 1080p images of original Reprise pressings or reel-to-reel tapes appear, synchronized with the playback on Blu-ray. At first, I thought this idea was the silliest thing I had ever seen on Blu-ray.
But as I listened to the music from four decades ago, meticulously remastered to achieve analog qualities and as I considered Young's love of vinyl and indeed the pinnacle of audiophile fetishism that LPs have achieved, the choice of images made sense to me. Watching a spinning record makes you slow down, and brings you back to a time before the instant gratification of digital audio. Images of spinning vinyl make even more sense when you consider that in the decade of 1963-1972, vinyl and reel-to-reel tape were the only options for audio playback. Obviously, the music included in the set was initially available not on CD but on wax, and by including those high-resolution images, Young puts the listener in the right frame of mind to hear his old albums from a less frenetic time. Even the Blu-ray loading sign was a spinning 45 rpm adapter, which is nothing but an animated logo to younger Young fans who have never used a turntable.
Neil Young Archives: Volume 1 Blu-ray, Video Quality
Archives Volume 1 is first and foremost a music project, meant to serve up Young's early output in high-definition audio. The idea of analyzing the video seems a bit beside the point. It is only meant as a companion to the music, and is mostly cobbled together from old film footage of concerts and road trips presented in 1080p. Newer camcorder footage from 1997 is also included to provide interviews. But due to the scope of the archive, imagery does play a big role. Most notable on the video front is the inclusion on disc 9 of Young's film, Journey Through the Past, made available for the first time in more than 35 years. The film is pretty much what you'd expect, and while the picture quality will never win any awards, it appears absolutely film-like on Blu-ray. Great care was taken in transferring all the video content and for much of the footage I actually forgot I was watching 1080p on a plasma. It felt more like film projected onto a screen.
Contrast and color heat seem perfectly tuned. Black level is deep and dark enough to provide a dramatic sense of depth even on the sequences taken from horrible sources, bad lighting and amateur shooting. The original production values are raised a touch for Young's feature film, Journey Through the Past. The film sets Young's concert footage and backstage atmospheres alongside more unconventional footage. The images of his shows--often with Crosby, Stills and Nash--generate intensity and excitement. The source material is soft and often poorly filmed, but overall it appears above average in its debut on Blu-ray. The grain and analog noise maintain their organic qualities and never morph into digital sheen, pixelation, black crush or other artifacts. For a musician, Young went beyond the pale in demanding the best video performance of his archival material. His eye may be as discriminating as his ear.
The picture smoothness and color timing seem to be taken to another level of accuracy because motion, color and shapes unfold in a lifelike way on the screen, as elements of the picture move and change with time. This is not to say the video is perfect. Far from it. There is a softness of varying degrees to all the footage--especially the dark concert sequences that are often afflicted with noise, haze and blur. But these problems are remarkably analog and organic. One could never call the video content "defined". But I was pleasantly surprised by the minimal flicker, strobing and banding I initially feared would plague the majority of content. Even on the NTSC material in 1.33:1, there is clearly a dedication to video excellence--an attempt to do justice to the picture and an attention to detail that is easy to see and appreciate, regardless of the merits of the source material. Several of the photos, menu images and the timeline feature of each disc show good detail and definition. The rest--not so much.
Neil Young Archives: Volume 1 Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Overall, the sound of Neil Young Archives: Volume 1 is detailed, refined, open, extended, warm, airy, forward and generally fantastic. This set marks the first Blu-ray content I have encountered--and one of the few examples of digital audio anywhere--that made me feel like I was listening to audiophile-caliber, heavy vinyl. The remastered material has a holistic or organic quality that is almost always lacking in digital audio. This commitment to quality and detail benefits the entire spectrum of sounds throughout the dynamic range and pays off instruments to their fullest. A large part of the reason for the audio performance of the set is that a Pacific Microsonics Model Two A-to-D converter was used to produce every track.
Pacific Microsonics, the company behind HDCD, had a team of important engineers, most notably Keith Johnson, who won multiple Grammy awards for recording and coauthored several patents covering optical-disc technology that are the basis of digital video and audio discs. The Model Two provides 192 kHz sampling, and is considered to be the best converter ever made in terms of neutrality and linearity. In the case of Archives Volume 1, tremendous care was taken in remastering each track. For example, the live material on disc 3 was compiled from the original 2 track, Ό" master tape reels, which were recorded at 15ips. Tape speed was found to vary by 4% overall and as much as 2% during playback of a single song. Unfortunately, this problem couldn't be solved in the 192 kHz realm and audio restoration techniques had to be used to solve these inconsistencies and bring the audio to the correct pitch.The HDCD 24-bit 192-kHz digital transfers were edited and then sample-rate converted to 24-bit 96-kHz for audio restoration. Finally, for Blu-ray, the audio program was upsampled on the Pacific Microsonics Model 2 processor, resulting in the 24-bit 192-kHz Blu-ray master.
The real triumph of the remastering is that it allows the music to shine through whether Young is performing solo, with just his voice and guitar, as on the live in Toronto discs, or with backing musicians. Thanks to his phenomenal ear, Young knows innately the type of band he needs to support his material. When he first jammed with Danny Whitten, Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina, they were with another band, but Young immediately knew he wanted to record with them and lured them away to form Crazy Horse. That same ear that brought together Crazy Horse has assured the highest quality of the remastered material some 40 years later on Blu-ray. The dense sound and hypnotic rhythms they created are showcased with great definition in 24-bit 192-kHz PCM. The clarity and detail of the dual guitars, drums, bass and harmonies of Young and Whitten are a revelation. Their work together is showcased anew in the high resolution remaster on several of the discs, most notably the intense "Live at the Fillmore East" concert on disc 5.
The analog-like resolution allows dense passages to breathe with new life. Check out disc 8 when the full backing of the London Symphony Orchestra backs Young on "A Man Needs a Maid". The midrange appears especially open and lush, spotlighting the flutes in a sea of strings, with bells and other percussion popping out in 3D fashion. This song will never make it to anyone's top 10 list, but it is far more enjoyable in high definition. Like the video content, there is some variability in the audio quality as a result of varying recording efforts and source material. In one or two cases, the rare 45 B side tracks appear to be sourced from vinyl itself. The quality and source material of the first two discs featuring Young's work with The Squires and Buffalo Springfield are especially spotty.
Since the HT crowd adopted Blu-ray and even DVD for multichannel audio, there may be some complaints that Young did not include 5.1 mixes of his music. I am glad he didn't. There is no reason to reinvent the soundstage of this classic material by remixing it for multichannel. Young, an audio purist and vinyl aficionado, thankfully focused his efforts on remastering the music the way it was originally recorded and mixed, ensuring maximum quality and minimal gimmickry. This set will do just fine on your average HT system with satellite speakers for the front left and right, but it's best to get your stereo up to snuff with front speakers that can run full range.
You will notice the audio improvements even with bookshelf or satellite speakers, but those with serious floorstanders and quality amplification, cabling and attention to power issues will get the most from the set. Much of the content has tremendous detail to mine, so Archives Volume 1 is a good test of your system's ability to flesh out some reference quality material, from guitars heavy on reverb, sustain and the "fuzz box" used on disc 2's "Mr. Soul" to the intoxicating harmonies of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young on the previously unreleased live version of "Tell Me Why" that can be found on disc 6.
Neil Young Archives: Volume 1 Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
In a collection as unique and extensive as Archives Volume 1, it's difficult to define where the main features end and the bonus content begins. Strictly speaking, anything that isn't music can be considered supplementary. But the very nature of offering a box set implies that goodies will be included that you don't get by buying the individual albums. It takes a long time to wade through all this material. For example, the Topanga 1 disc includes an impromptu interview with Young and archivist/photographer Joel Bernstein on February 18, 1997 as they peruse contact sheets and news clippings to include in the set. Each disc has material like this. By clicking on the microphone in the "more" section of disc 8, you get a February 24, 1997 interview with Neil where he talks about writing his song from Harvest about heroine addiction and overdose, "The Needle and the Damage Done".
Each of these featurettes offers an important opportunity for fans to connect with Young and learn more about his personality and his approach to songwriting. You may be wondering what took so long to release this material if the archival production was underway as far back as 1997. The archives was very much a project in search of a medium. Young initially showed great interest in SACD and DVD-A, but he realized the project would benefit from a higher capacity disc medium. Blu-ray and the Neil Young archives are a marriage made in technological and artistic heaven.
From my perspective, there really is no bonus content. The lyrics, booklet, archive poster, concert footage and interviews are all part of the box set. For the price tag, fans deserve every bit of it. But I'll go so far as to characterize the hidden audio tracks as supplementary material. Half of the Blu-ray discs include hidden tracks as follows.
The Early Years (1963-1965)
I Wonder--a monaural recording of a previously unreleased song by The Squires.
Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing--a monaural presentation from Buffalo Springfield's debut album.
The Early Years (1966-1968)
This Is It!--A previously unreleased montage of excerpts from Buffalo Springfield's final concert presented in monaural sound.
Do I Have to Come Right Out and Say It?--a mono mix from Buffalo Springfield's self-titled debut.
Flying on the Ground Is Wrong--a monaural mix from Buffalo Springfield's first album.
For What It's Worth--a mono version from the debut album.
Topanga 1 (1968-1969)
The Emperor of Wyoming--the only hidden track on this disc is the version from Neil Young's solo debut album.
Topanga 2 (1969-1970)
I Believe in You--a previously unreleased mix of the classic song with Crazy Horse providing the backup.
I've Loved Her So Long--a monaural mix of a live performance with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
Topanga 3 (1970)
Don't Let It Bring You Down--from the second pressing of After the Gold Rush.
When You Dance, I Can Really Love--from the second pressing of After the Gold Rush.
Birds--the well-known version from After the Gold Rush.
Neil Young Archives: Volume 1 Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The first volume of Neil Young's archives is a groundbreaking release on many levels. Not only does it sound like pristine vinyl, with impeccable production values, it also includes gobs of footage, rare tracks and other goodies that require a great deal of time to wade through, with many gems and moments that make it worth your while. Young deserves top honors for this ambitious set because it is seriously innovative and raises the benchmark for all artists who want to deliver quality remasters of all their recordings. With Archives Volume 1, Young blazes a trail beyond the music itself and into a new arena. Blu-ray makes it possible, along with Young's commitment to quality and his collaborators--particularly archivist/photographer Joel Bernstein and art director Gary Burden.
Neil has created a blueprint for the way artists can connect with collectors and serious fans; a new approach for the audience to best access and appreciate the music they love. It isn't just the contents of Archives Volume 1 or the promise of subsequent volumes that makes the box groundbreaking. The real eye-opener is what this set represents in a broader sense--the real emergence of Blu-ray as a vehicle for unlimited (via multiple disc packaging and BD-Live) access to the high-definition works of serious musicians and composers.
One can easily imagine this type of treatment for an archive of Steely Dan's output or Black Sabbath: the Ozzy Osbourne Years. A Blu-ray set is already rumored for The Beatles. If there's any truth to it, the surviving pair should hire Young's team to show them how to pull their archives together. With the range of material they assembled for Archives Volume 1, and the promise of more with BD-Live and future volumes, Young has set the standard. The box is truly an epic release. Every single one of his fans should start saving their shekels for this and future sets. As a jazz fan, I can envision the complete Blue Note output of Wayne Shorter or Joe Henderson or Art Blakey produced in a similar manner on Blu-ray in high-definition two-channel stereo remasters, packaged with all manner of memorabilia, music sheet sketches of the compositions, photos, concert footage, etc., etc.
Neil Young is a rare musician who is equally adept at intimate, heartfelt ballads with delicate acoustic guitar as he is at driving, hard rock riffs built on heavy distorted power cords. His lead guitar skills also became prodigious, though early in his career, they took a back seat. Listen to his simple solo in "Cowgirl in the Sand" that starts out for the first couple measures as staccato hammering of a single note. He then introduces another note, and alternates between the two. But even in that solo, Young shows tremendous energy and was able to hold his own with rock's guitar gods--a least on some level. The way his guitar skills continued to improve throughout the '70s makes me look forward to the next archives set, volume 2. Zuma is my favorite album by Young and I can't wait to rediscover it as well as the Rust Never Sleeps material that came later.
While I'd like to wax philosophic on Young's artistry and singer/songwriter chops, his fans already know why he is great. Besides, I'm afraid "Final Words" is a double entendre. This will be my last review for Blu-ray.com and as much as I'd like to keep contributing write-ups and analysis, I have been told to tender my resignation. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to be your eyes and ears, and I trust I did not steer anyone wrong. When I started writing reviews here two years ago, titles trickled out slowly, but that has changed and we now have many choices. I hope you continue to find Blu-ray to be rewarding. I know I will!
Neil Young Archives: Volume 1: Other Editions
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Neil Young Archives: Volume 1 Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Neil Young Archives Sell Out on Blu-ray - June 11, 2009
'Neil Young Archives, Volume 1: 1963-1972', released on June 2, has already sold out of its initial shipment, to the surprise of Warner Music, according to Young's producer Larry Johnson. As the reasons for that success, Johnson cited the ongoing addition of content ...
• Neil Young Archives Gets June Date - March 23, 2009
According to the man himself, 'Neil Young: Archives Volume One' will hit store shelves on June 2nd, day-and-date with both the DVD and CD releases. Pegged as more of a biography than a box set, this 10-disc set covers 10 years of the artists life, including previously ...
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