By Bill Zaferos   Published Nov 29, 2006 at 5:15 AM
Neil Young has had such a great career that sometimes you forget how long he's been great.

His latest release, "Neil Young and Crazy Horse Live at the Fillmore East 1970" reminds you that Neil Young was an incredible songwriter and guitarist long before he became known for publicly supporting liberal causes and rocking in the free world.

It's just six songs and 43 minutes long, but boy, oh boy is it packed with terrific music. Sure, the question could be asked: Do we really need another live Neil Young album? Ten minutes into this one and the answer is an enthusiastic yes.

Apparently drawn from the first of what promises to be a number of releases from Young's archives of live material, it is hard to believe he'll be able to top this set, although he likely will.

This set features the original Crazy Horse line-up, including the late guitarist Danny Whitten, who later died of a drug overdose. Whitten plays a perfect rhythmic complement to Young's scorching guitar work.

Was there really a time when Neil Young and Crazy Horse opened for Miles Davis? Apparently, anything could happen musically in those days, as this recording was taken from two March nights in 1970 when Young and Davis played the same bill, with Young apparently blowing Davis off stage if the concert review inside the album cover is any indication. (By the way, for trivia buffs, the opening act for Young and Davis was an up and coming Steve Miller Blues Band.)

Leading off with a rollicking version of Young's forgotten treasure "Everybody Knows This is Nowhere," the album slides into a dead-on version of "Winterlong" and then pulls you into a positively hypnotic, rocking 12-and-a-half minute "Down By the River." The album could have stopped there and still be worth the money.

The guitar work isn't as overheated as on "Rockin' in the Free World" or even "Like a Hurricane," but it's still spectacular. Young may be one of the very few rockers who can make a guitar lead last more than five minutes and still keep things interesting, even compelling. Take a listen to the 16-minute ominous version of "Down by the River" and you'll realize that only Young could pull this off.

This isn't one of those "you had to be there" live discs. It can be taken on its own for a piece of fine rock and roll that sounds as good today as it did 36 years ago, and it has the sort of immediacy that makes you feel like you actually were there. The album was spliced together from performances over the two nights and does not include an acoustic set Young apparently did before bringing our Crazy Horse. And there's no idle band banter, no extended audience applause except after "Cowgirl," just straight ahead rock and roll.

Young has put out several other live albums that may cast a better light on his later material. But if you've never seen Young in concert, "Live at the Fillmore" may be a good place to start.