REVIEW: Neil Young and the Stray Gators’ 1973 “Tuscaloosa”

Reviews

Consider me a fan of archival live recordings being released. Whether it’s this particular Neil Young release, or the Springsteen live archives or the obvious Grateful Dead live releases, I want them all.
Even though I’ve had copies of varying quality of many of the releases finally being released, there’s just something special about getting a hold of the “official” release. This release here is Tuscaloosa and it becomes available in all the usual formats on June 7th via Young’s Archives Performance Series and Warner Brothers records.

It’s a special one indeed, and captures Neil Young and his band of the time, “The Stray Gators” playing the Memorial Coliseum on February 5th 1973. This was a very important moment of time for Young, finding him in between Harvest, and the forthcoming On The Beach and Tonight’s The Night. Surprising to consider now, but Harvest was not highly thought of by critics when released in February of ’72. This release includes five six songs from Harvest: “Out On The Weekend,” “Alabama,” “Old Man,” “Heart of Gold” and the title track. Young has indicated that “Southern Man” and “Needle and the Damage Done”was also part of the night’s setlist, but not included here. Nor is this release a full representation of that night’s show of which reportedly also included “On the Way Home” as well as “The Loner.” The release was put together by Young, engineer John Hanlon, producer Elliot Mazer and mastered by Chris Bellman and Bernie Grundman. Originally recorded through the soundboard, some songs reportedly suffered from quality issues. Unfortunately, those seem to include, “Needle and the Damage Done.” Young and team meticulously remastered and remixed the original tapes to live up to Young’s exacting standards.

In addition to the cuts from Harvest, Young has also included “Here We Are In The Years” as well as the title track of his ’69 debut, “After The Goldrush” (both performed here solo).“New Mama” and “Lookout Joe” from the forthcoming “Tonight’s The Night” are also represented as is “Don’t Be Denied” from the live release “Time Fades Away.”

Young has always utilized a variety of stellar musicians over the years, and the Stray Gators were no exception. Comprised of Tim Drummond on bass, Jack Nitzsche on piano, Ben Keith on pedal steel, and Kenny Buttrey on drums. Young is backed here by the band that helped create “Harvest” and the live “Time Fades Away”, and it’s a fabulous historical document of a time burdened with division; not unlike now. Always a political artist, undoubtedly there are personal reasons Young has chosen to revisit this archival recording just now. Whether you share political ideologies with Young or not, you can’t deny the power of Young playing these songs, at this time, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Tuscaloosa should be a must have for any Neil Young fan. While the completist in me wishes the entire night of songs had been packaged on this release, it’s still undeniably good just as is. For those completist like me, Young has hinted that the excluded cuts could be available to members of his Neil Young Archives site, which I also highly recommend. Find more information on this release, Neil Young and his expansive archives here: https://neilyoungarchives.com/

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