Friday, July 18, 2014

CSN 5: Demos

While Neil spent much of the decade promising and delaying his box set, the others in Crosby, Stills & Nash quickly realized that there was gold in them there hills. Crosby’s box set came first in 2006, followed by Nash three years later. Each three-CD set was handsomely packaged with the requisite remixes and alternates; the Stills set wouldn’t arrive until 2013, but was expanded to four, since he’d had more albums to sample. But well before that, he’d released Just Roll Tape, purporting to be a long-long demo session recorded in April of 1968. With snippets of songs never revisited, along with the usual embryonic versions of a few classics, the set proves that he wouldn’t truly find his voice until he had other voices to support him. (It also shows him to be a master of time travel, since it’s been established that Buffalo Springfield had a gig in Arizona while this session was supposedly taking place in New York.)
The very same day Neil’s Archives box finally emerged, so did a CSN disc called, simply, Demos. Culled from the first three or so years they worked together, it’s a low-key, enjoyable collection of songs you already know, but generally in a basic format. In other words, solo and acoustic, and no harmonies.
Considering how headstrong these guys were, the demo versions aren’t that different, structurally, from the finished productions. In most cases they’re blueprints to be built on; “Music Is Love”, for example, appears to be the simpler basic track before Graham and Neil loaded it up to open Crosby’s first solo album, while “Long Time Gone” is an early band version that hasn’t quite arrived at its proper feel.
And that’s another perk to the set—the songs aren’t limited to just the group albums, but include plenty of ideas that wouldn’t reach fruition until their various solo albums. All of Nash’s songs (save “Marrakesh Express”) would end up on his first album, while Stills’ ideas (as proved on Just Roll Tape) could sit around for years before making one of his albums. “You Don’t Have To Cry” consists of just the one verse that would be repeated for the album version, though Crosby’s unplugged sketches of “Déjà Vu” and “Almost Cut My Hair” are even longer than the released takes.
Demos is for fans only, and might have spurred a sequel had the sales been there. But it does succeed for the reasons mentioned, as well as for sending people back to the first records they made together and apart. While not the cottage industry that runs message boards concerning hypothetical post-1970 Beatle albums culled from solo work, there must be more than a few fans who have compiled their own collections of the best of CSN apart.

Crosby, Stills & Nash Demos (2009)—3

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