At 78, “Shakey” is showing no signs of slowing down, although he seems more comfortable with looking back. Recorded over the course of four shows on his recent Coastal Tour, Before and After is a live album with a difference: 13 songs from throughout Young’s career are performed, without audience noise, in a continuous 48-minute sequence. The acoustic-based selections cover seven decades and are mostly lesser known, although the minimal instrumentation and similar themes, such as the passage of time and a changing world, mean they complement each other well.
The format certainly suits I’m the Ocean: the track was originally recorded with Pearl Jam on 1995’s Mirror Ball, and removing the electric guitars reveals more of its beauty. The biggest curiosity is If You Got Love, recorded for 1982’s electronic album Trans but not included on it: the gentle melody transfers perfectly to pump organ and occasional harmonica. Elsewhere, the piano playing on My Heart and A Dream That Can Last is magically fragile and delicate. Burned (“no use running away, and there’s no time left to stay”) certainly packs a different energy from a seventysomething than from the 20-year-old Young was when he recorded it with Buffalo Springfield in 1966, while Mother Earth’s environmental message remains as relevant as ever. There’s a lovely intimacy and openness to songs such as When I Hold You in My Arms and while his voice has lost some of the old youthful power, it has gained in tenderness, nuance, humanity and warmth.