Friday, January 6, 2012

CSN 1: Crosby, Stills & Nash

The unlikeliest supergroup in an era full of them hit the ground running, and what a wonderful blend it was. David Crosby had been bounced from the Byrds, Stephen Stills stood in the debris of Buffalo Springfield, and Graham Nash left the Hollies back in England. Despite the equal-ish billing on Crosby, Stills & Nash, it was Stills who ran the show by producing, playing multiple guitars, bass and organ, and writing half of the songs. Luckily he also knew when to let the other two shine on their own.
“Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” is still their quintessential performance, a basic drop-D strum with harmonies aplenty, tension bolstered by the multiple sections, and not even the Ricky Ricardo detour can deflate it. “Marrakesh Express” could pass for a Simon & Garfunkel song, but “Guinnevere” is pure Crosby, mysterious and spooky. The trio’s blend shines on “You Don’t Have To Cry”, despite consisting of the same verse sung twice. (Crosby oddly calls it “In The Morning When You Rise” in his first autobiography.) Backwards guitar was still in vogue in 1969, so that’s what we hear all over “Pre-Road Downs”. Be sure to hide the roaches indeed.
The band finally, truly rocks on “Wooden Ships”, a vivid apocalyptic vision and excellent dialogue. Nash turns things way, way down for “Lady Of The Island”, and we’re not the first to note the resemblance to Joni Mitchell. “Helplessly Hoping” is a high school poem set to music, an exercise in alliteration that rises above the obvious “one, two, three” effect on the chorus. “Long Time Gone” recaptures the gloomy rock sound, and Crosby finds his inner yodel. That vocal effect appears briefly before “49 Bye-Byes”, one of Stills’ better tracks, building in an excellent crescendo for a fine ending.
Crosby, Stills & Nash has become such a part of the fabric that any summation seems redundant. The fact of the matter is that they got it right, and seemed capable of just about anything. However, the band would struggle to balance the harmonic blend of their music with the ego struggle behind the scenes. We should be happy that they were able to create this. (An expanded version adds four demos slash outtakes, songs which would end up on future albums, with the exception of Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’”.)

Crosby, Stills & Nash Crosby, Stills & Nash (1969)—4
2006 remastered CD: same as 1969, plus 4 extra tracks

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