Friday, October 18, 2013

CSN 4: CSN Box

While Neil Young had gone through his own ups and downs in the ‘80s, Crosby, Stills & Nash had an even worse ride. Crosby hit rock bottom, went to prison, and emerged clean and sober. Meanwhile, the other two kept their noses clean, more or less, and failed to excite anyone with their solo efforts. American Dream, which had Neil’s full involvement, was less than stellar but sold; 1990’s Live It Up was most notable for including a song previously sung by John Waite over the closing credits of About Last Night.
But being a legacy act with a strong catalog, Atlantic was fully behind the idea of a CSN box set, particularly after the success of a similar Led Zeppelin package. Outside of the usual rarities and album cuts, the CSN set boldly incorporated solo and duet work by each of the members (save Neil, who was keeping his best stuff on ice for his own archival brick). The trio took extra care to sequence the wide-ranging tracks into a logical and somewhat chronological order.
Of course, the bulk of the first two discs comes from the extremely fertile cusp of the ‘70s, when all three were positively teeming with tunes. Most of the first album is here, some in mildly different takes or mixes. By the middle of the second disc, they’ve all started their actual solo albums, so the set practically creates an imaginary 1971 album by the trio. The best of everyone’s work from the mid- to late ‘70s also provides a nice reminder as to why we still cared. As is the case with many such sets, the excitement tails off at disc four, where such hits as “Southern Cross” and “Wasted On The Way” share space with some uninspiring ‘80s solo and group work, including a dull remake of “Dear Mr. Fantasy”, ending with the 1970 B-side version of “Find The Cost Of Freedom” to close the circle.
For true rarities, there’s their lush arrangement of McCartney’s “Blackbird” for three voices and guitar, an earlier “Song With No Words”, a true Déjà Vu outtake in “Horses Through A Rainstorm”, and the full nine-minute take of “Almost Cut My Hair” faded on the LP. One of the more daring experiments that works is a studio take of “The Lee Shore”, but with vocals that weren’t added until the ‘90s. Crosby & Nash duet on a nice version of Joni Mitchell’s “Urge For Going”, and all four come together for alternates of “See The Changes”, “Taken At All” and “Homeward Through The Haze”, for those CSNY albums that never happened.
Taken all together, it’s a fine set, complete with detailed notes for each track. Neil’s contributions, while scattered, are pretty essential for his diehard fans too. What still baffles after all these years is what to call the thing; the spines of the disc and the box itself read Crosby, Stills & Nash, while a stylized CSN on the cover, booklet and jewel cases suggests that’s the title. Both, of course, had already been used as album titles. Meanwhile, a two-disc distillation of the set called Carry On appeared in Europe, so it’s too bad they just couldn’t go with that.

Crosby, Stills & Nash Crosby, Stills & Nash (1991)—

3 comments:

  1. Much of this is way too precious. Self-indulgent & puerile

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  2. The music. Your review was...kinder than I would have been, but well written & a delight to read.

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