Friday, June 6, 2008

CSN 2: Deja Vu

Never one to stay in one place, Neil quickly hooked up with Crosby, Stills & Nash—who had already put out one monstrously successful album—in addition to working and touring with Crazy Horse and pushing his own solo career, all in the space of a year. Sooner or later someone was bound to get pissed off, and they did.
Despite the lawfirm-style credits, the ensuing Déjà Vu can hardly be considered a collaboration. As had happened with Buffalo Springfield, each of the guys worked on their own tunes, though David Crosby’s “Almost Cut My Hair” is a live group performance with Neil on one of the leads. (The full take with cold ending can be found on the CSN box set, making one curious about similar tracks from the sessions.) Each of the tracks is the distinct product of its writer’s vision, with only the harmonies or occasional lead guitar to suggest a group effort.
Neil’s voice and guitar only come through on the tracks he did write. With its three chords, fake steel guitar and harmonies that don’t soar, “Helpless” has been a matter of personal taste, but “Country Girl” is another matter altogether. It’s a big Spector studio production—in three parts, no less—that still fits his voice and style like a glove. The “Down, Down, Down” section was adapted from an unreleased Springfield song, taken to the next level by those harmonies. The “Whiskey Boot Hill” section is something of a nod to “Broken Arrow”, then comes the descending minor phrase that turns flawlessly into a major key, and that chorus (“Country Girl (I Think You’re Pretty)”) that must still be going on somewhere. On the record, however, it’s followed by “Everybody I Love You”. While credited to Stills and Young, it sounds a lot more like Stills and Nash; that’s not meant as a compliment.
The “other three” did their part too; Crosby’s title track provides a level of mystery to balance the fuzz of “Almost Cut My Hair”. “Carry On” is a Stills opus in the vein of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” but with more electricity, starting acoustic and building to pull in a coda borrowed from “Questions” from the last Springfield album. His fingerprints are all over the cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock”, while “4+20” is a solo blues number providing a change of mood. Nash held onto the values of the Sixties on “Teach Your Children” (for which Jerry Garcia allegedly taught himself how to play pedal steel guitar) and “Our House”, about the place he lived with Joni. Both are as classic as they are dippy.
Déjà Vu was another triumph for CSN—at least until they split up—and remains essential for “Country Girl”, available on no other single Neil LP. This album is why people still get excited about any CSNY reunion, and often settle for any combination thereof, but as the four were barely able to catch lightning in a bottle the first time, it’s doubtful the sum will ever equal any of the parts ever again. No matter how many times they go back to the well.
Thirty years after Graham Nash first broached the subject, the album was finally expanded for a deluxe edition celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. Outside of replicating the textured cover and inserting a remastered vinyl copy in the set—as had been Rhino’s MO of late—the package offered a thin booklet plus a disc of demos (seven of which had already been released), another of outtakes, and a fourth of “alternate versions” of nine of the album’s tracks. Surprisingly, given Rhino’s usual discographical detail, there was very little info about the sessions themselves, much less who played what, so Neil’s presence is just as ephemeral here as he was on the original. As for rarities, he only offered an acoustic demo of “Birds” with Graham, which is nice, and an alternative mix of “Helpless” he’d already put out on his own box set. The rest of the rarities show just how prolific Stills was, with Crosby subdued. Listening to the extras would underscore that they put the best tracks out in the first place, except for the bootlegs that sport still-unreleased band takes on “Sea Of Madness” and “Everybody’s Alone”, to name two. Given Crosby’s outcast status among the other three in 2021, it’s astonishing that they gave us even this much.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young Déjà Vu (1970)—4
2021 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition: same as 1970, plus 38 extra tracks

1 comment:

  1. Listening to the outtakes and demos, it’s clear that there was nothing that could have been added to the album to improve it. “Birds” and “Laughing” are nice, but they came across much better, of course, in their final versions. (The latter was actually recorded in the album sessions, without Stills or Young, but with Joni, despite being released as a Crosby solo track).

    This was one of my earliest album purchases, and I think it’s one of the real classics from that era. It and the first wave of solo albums that would follow would set a bar that none of them would ever clear -- even Young, I would argue, although he did come closest. The other three would take 25 years to release an album that IMHO, came within shouting distance as being as good as the first two, “After the Storm”. As much as I loved their music, I have to agree that, they were very hit and miss over the years.