When Donny Hathaway, Thelonious Monk And Neil Young Hit A Turning Point

Live at the Cellar Door, the new album from Neil Young, was recorded in 1970. i i

Live at the Cellar Door, the new album from Neil Young, was recorded in 1970. Gary Burden/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

itoggle caption Gary Burden/Courtesy of the artist
Live at the Cellar Door, the new album from Neil Young, was recorded in 1970.

Live at the Cellar Door, the new album from Neil Young, was recorded in 1970.

Gary Burden/Courtesy of the artist

It's the fall of 1970. Neil Young takes the stage at a small club in Washington, D.C. His career is heading in a new direction: His folk-rock group, Buffalo Springfield, has dissolved; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young is on the way out, and he's going solo.

His new album, Live at the Cellar Door, is one of three recent live albums, all from about the same time period. Thelonious Monk's Paris 1969 performance preceded Young's, while one disc of a four-CD anthology from the late R&B and soul singer Donny Hathaway, Never My Love, was recorded in 1971.

In a discussion with NPR's Melissa Block, music critic Tom Moon looks back at the time when all three albums were recorded. Moon says each record shows an influential musician at a turning point in his career.

Turning Point Recordings From Influential Artists

  • Neil Young, 'Live At The Cellar Door'

    YouTube

    "He booked three nights at the Cellar Door, which was this little, tiny, almost a shoebox of a room," Moon says. "Essentially, it was for his purpose of getting used to being a completely solo performer. This is him kind of orienting himself to a different scale entirely. He's thinking very small, both in terms of the instrumentation and also in terms of the songs, [which] are simple. They are very, very earnest and using a very straightforward melody to express vulnerability."

  • Donny Hathaway, 'Never My Love: The Anthology'

    YouTube

    "I think it was the peak of his popularity," Moon says. "He had hits with Roberta Flack after this. The record Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack came out in '72, but he very quickly stops writing, and the stuff in the studio that follows is a lot of instrumental stuff. He really stopped recording. He ends up only having three studio records and the live record that were issued during his lifetime. So it's kind of a loss. We don't know what we didn't get."

  • Thelonious Monk, 'Paris 1969'

    YouTube

    "He had just lost his longtime contract with Columbia Records, and that marks the end of what he shared with the world, in terms of new studio recordings," Moon says. "I feel in this that he's trying very hard to be the steadfast warrior of jazz that he'd been for much of the '60s. He was really an influential part of jazz for such a long time, and he very quickly disappears from live playing altogether."

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