Before and After
Anyone familiar with Hitchhiker or Homegrown or the dustier corners of the Archives series knows Neil Young has never subscribed to the idea of a permanent and enduring studio version of his songs. Part of what’s interesting about the sparse rerecordings on 2023’s Before and After is the relative obscurity of the source material, which reaches as far back as Buffalo Springfield (“Burned”) and as near as 2021’s Barn (“Don’t Forget Love”). The frailty of “Birds” has never sounded more beautiful, and nobody should take issue with a “Mr. Soul” stripped so bitterly bare. But the grace of the album isn’t in any single performance so much as the way it blurs the beginnings and ends of songs into each other to create a seamless ribbon of sound. Call it a “montage” (Young’s word), call it a dream (ours)—this is the sound of a 78-year-old man briefly glimpsing a life’s work from somewhere just outside himself.