Recorded at a time when everybody from Mariah Carey to Nirvana was appearing on MTV and unleashing the results on the public as Unplugged records, I daresay that Young’s effort was one of the better efforts to emerge from the movement. A more idiosyncratic revisiting of his back catalogue than the career overview of Live Rust, it’s more interesting to long-time fans, throwing in rare songs and drastic reinterpretations alongside a handful of Young standards and material from the recent Harvest Moon. Young is supported by most of the Stray Gators, his backing band from Harvest, along with Nils Lofgren on guitar, and Nicolette Larson, who popularised ‘Lotta Love’, on backing vocals.
The most notable song here is the Stephen Stills tribute ‘Stringman’, written in 1976, but never officially released until this album, possibly because of its personal nature; it’s a gentle piano piece, with lines like “There is no dearer friend of mine/That I know in this life/On his shoulder rests a violin/For his head where chaos reigns.” From the drastic reinterpretations pile, ‘Like A Hurricane’ is given a dramatic pump organ backing, while the previously electronic ‘Transformer Man’ stands up as a solid song in acoustic form. As much as I find Harvest Moon monotonous, the three songs from it here sound fine when they’re nestled alongside some of Young’s more idiosyncratic songs like ‘Old Laughing Lady’ and ‘World On A String’.
Like most live albums, Unplugged isn’t essential, but it’s a nice little addition to Young’s catalogue nonetheless.