Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Graham Nash 1: Songs For Beginners

The immediate result of the Beatles “breakup” in 1970 meant that fans could potentially get four albums a year instead of one. The same could be said for CSNY, whom many were calling the Beatles’ American counterpart that same year. By mid-1971, each of the four had followed Déjà Vu with their own statement.

Graham Nash’s album was the last to emerge. Of the group he was the most pop (and least experimental) so it’s to be expected that Songs For Beginners would be as accessible as it is. Like those of his cronies, it was pieced together over time and using many of the same musicians.

The album is bookended by two political songs. “Military Madness” is a toe-tapping history lesson, with Dave Mason’s incessant soloing and wailing backing vocals. “Chicago” would have been familiar to those who’d bought 4 Way Street a month earlier; here its coda is indexed separately as “We Can Change The World”, his heavy-handed piano pounding away.

In between are eight songs that seem to mostly lament his breakup with Joni Mitchell. “Better Days” and “Simple Man” are nice little sketches, embellished by just enough instrumentation, while “Wounded Bird” just floats past. “I Used To Be A King” gets something of a big production, with the likes of Jerry Garcia and, depending on which credits you read, Neil Young adding pedal steel and piano to its urgent chorus. Neil’s influence is obvious on “Man In The Mirror”, from the country touches to the competing meters. “Sleep Song” was supposedly too risqué for the Hollies; “Be Yourself” and “There’s Only One” come off as hurriedly written, but still enjoyable.

Barely half an hour long, there’s still a lot of memorable melody packed into these grooves. He can still be proud of Songs For Beginners, and it makes a nice companion to his friends’ contemporary installments. Of course, just as with the Beatles, the idea of four albums a year instead of one was too good to be true. Yet the initial bounty suggested otherwise, and for a time, the promise of the music seemed to be eternal.

Graham Nash Songs For Beginners (1971)—

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