CD Review: “Crosby, Stills & Nash”

Crosby, Stills & Nash

Crosby, Stills & Nash (Audio Fidelity)

 By Brian Arsenault

It’s been more than 40 years since Crosby, Stills & Nash created the true goose bumps moment at the Woodstock Music Festival — for most folks via the film, rather than in the flesh, but no less striking for that.  They sat on stools on a darkened stage and gave a taste of those remarkable and now classic harmonies they still manage to create. It was magic.

(Neil Young, who had just joined the band, performed for part of the set but refused to be in the film.)

They confessed to being “scared shitless” that evening. It was after all one of their very first live performances.  They needn’t have been.  The electrified folk roots of the Byrds, the snappy harmonies of the Hollies, the iconoclastic quality of Buffalo Springfield all mutated into something that was greater than the sum of the parts.

Now Audio Fidelity has issued a limited edition re-release of the seminal, 1969 debut album of the original Crosby, Stills & Nash trio, cut just before the Woodstock appearance.  It’s a 24-Karat Gold CD.  Naturally.

I don’t listen to radio much any more, but I know “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” was an FM staple for decades, maybe still is.  It’s a very complex song musically to have ever received  radio play even in a more enlightened era.

“Wooden Ships” became a kind of sci-fi hippie “we aren’t like you straight people” anthem recorded by both CSN and Jefferson Airplane. (Song credits to both.) I rather like the Airplane’s version a bit better because of Grace Slick’s soaring voice on the chorus but both servings are fine.

It’s not a consistently great album. The cloyingly obvious “Marrakesh Express”  may be hashified, but it’s as lightweight in its own way as most Hollies tunes. “Pre Road Downs” is kind of boring. But I say to me: 40 years down the road, so what? The legacy is bigger than a missed track here and there.

And by the way, “Guinevere’ with one “n” or two is a largely forgotten, hauntingly beautiful song which surprisingly has a bit of Simon & Garfunkel in the vocal. Who knew? And the opening bars of “49 Bye-Byes” charms with particularly distinctive Stephen Stills singing. His voice in its own way is as distinctive as Michael MacDonald’s. That catch in Stills’  delivery, that phrasing like he’s a half moment behind himself, always gets your attention.

The only real gripe I have with CSN comes in “Lady of the Island,” when the singing dips into a kind of creepy link with The New Christy Minstrels.  I think it was Clapton who said of the San Francisco music scene of the ‘60s-‘70s that the bands had “listened to the wrong music.”  I think he may have meant too much early ‘60s folk and country and too little blues and r&b. He had a point.

Still, “Helplessly Hoping” shows just how beautiful those CSN harmonies can be.  And beauty is its own reason to be.  The song also touches deeply, nearly profoundly, on the dualistic nature of love for a partner:

“They are one person

They are two alone”

Cassidy, a friend of my youth from the Bay Area, said that the hippie movement was born in the Summer of Love of 1967 and barely survived beyond the coming of fall.  Pete Townsend asked years later: “Whatever happened to that hippie shit?”

Indeed, by 1970 it was clearly Madison Avenue with tie dye t-shirts on models and bras made for “that braless look.”  Certainly we are in a lower circle of hell these days with $1500 jeans.

So maybe that night at Woodstock wasn’t the full flowering of the hippie movement, but its wake. If so, it was a good death, with angels like these singing us out of paradise.

2 thoughts on “CD Review: “Crosby, Stills & Nash”

  1. So most of the universe has heard some if not most of this album but for us oldsters who are those most likely to shell out money for a higher quality version of what we’ve already bought 2-3 times in other formats (I have seven “different” versions of “Kind of Blue”…I know…I know…), could you let us know if the audio quality is decidedly better than the previous versions. I can squint and see from the photo that there is nothing new in the track listing but has it been remastered? Remixed?


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