When Neil Young released the first volume of his Archives series in 2009, the expectation was for the second edition to arrive within a year or two.

But years dragged on, and Young released one album after another – some new studio records, a couple live LPs, various other archival projects – while Archives was delayed again and again. He even launched a website dedicated to his vault recordings while promising a second volume was imminent.

More than a decade after that excellent 10-disc box covering 1963-72 and Young's work with Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills & Nash and other bands, Archives Vol. II: 1972-1976 picks up the story with 10 more discs and dozens of previously unreleased tracks from one of the singer-songwriter's most fertile periods.

Following 1972's chart-topping Harvest and its No. 1 single "Heart of Gold" – which were covered on Vol. I – Young embarked on an era of prolific studio work that resulted in albums released months (1974's On the Beach), years (1975's Tonight's the Night, which was made in 1973) and sometimes decades (Homegrown, recorded in 1974 but released in 2020) after they were recorded. They form the foundation of Archives Vol. II, along with some previously released live material from the three and a half years collected here.

Arranged chronologically, rather than in the haphazard manner Young himself has often put them out, the 131 tracks draw a straight line from the country-folk Harvest and the similarly themed songs recorded in late 1972 that open the box to the scarred and cathartic Tonight's the Night and the ragged blues of On the Beach. And then it all goes back again with the stripped-down sessions found on the unreleased The Old Homestead disc that evolved into Homegrown.

That doesn't make following Young's thought process any easier. He occasionally jumps around stylistically within projects, using various backing bands – everyone from members of Crosby, Stills & Nash and the Band to Emmylou Harris and Crazy Horse show up – to share his songs.

You probably already know the best songs here: "Tonight's the Night," "Cortez the Killer" and "Like a Hurricane" were all recorded during this period. And there's opportunity to revisit some great deep tracks like "Revolution Blues," "Don't Cry No Tears" and "Long May You Run." But Archives Vol. II also offers a few dozen cuts – in one form or another – that have never shown up on record before, ranging from live numbers to alternate versions to long-lost songs that never found their way out of Young's vaults.

Some, like the abandoned "Come Along and Say You Will" recorded with the Stray Gators in late 1972, could have fit on any number of Young projects from the '70s. Others, like a ragged cover of Joni Mitchell's "Raised on Robbery" from the Tonight's the Night sessions, are tossed-off numbers from the era that were probably never seriously considered or intended for release.

That pretty much sums up Young throughout his 50-plus recording career. He's delivered classic albums in the '60s (Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere), '70s (Harvest), '80s (Freedom), '90s (Ragged Glory) and '00s (Le Noise). He's also released several forgettable records along the way, but that's bound to happen with an artist as prolific and risk-taking as Young. (Only Bob Dylan rivals him across the board.) But the '70s remain his golden era, so there aren't many dull moments on Archives Vol. II.

Best of all, many of those lost albums from Young's past can be assembled with the pieces here. The best and most fabled of those, Homegrown, has already seen release, but leftover songs from the sessions – "Frozen Man," "Changing Highways" and "Deep Forbidden Lake," among them – reveal just how inspired he was following his breakup with actress Carrie Snodgress. Another album could have easily come together from the unused tracks, some of which ended up in different versions on later records.

Same goes for the 1975 sessions with Crazy Horse that yielded the Zuma album. Early takes on Rust Never Sleeps tracks "Ride My Llama" and "Powderfinger" are especially powerful here, reshuffling volume levels from the songs you know. And the "Look Out for My Love" disc collects stray material from 1975-76 eventually targeted for various projects, including the mostly acoustic Comes a Time, Young's career-sweeping 1977 compilation Decade and the abandoned Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young album Human Highway.

It all amounts to the definitive statement on the important second part of Young's long career. The three albums released under his name during this period are among his best, and much of the leftover material served as the bedrock to other great projects later. There was more to come, of course, and future Archives volumes will presumably collect those eras. As an artist, Young has been notoriously spotty in the proceeding decades. Here, though, few were better.

 

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