Crosby, Stills & Nash

Release Date: June 02, 2009
Produced by: Graham Nash & Joel Bernstein
Format: CD



Mark Squirek


On this joyful release the truth is in the title. These are the demo tracks by each individual artist long before they appeared in their final form. It is only on the opening cut, Marrakesh Express, that the three appear together. Nash and Crosby create their legendary harmonies (and play guitar) while Stills adds a bass track. The remaining songs often feature only the songwriter (and their instrument of choice, guitar or piano). Only a few of  other tracks feature two or more of the trio. And oddly, on one of them, it is their part-time comrade in art Neil Young who shows up on Music is Love.

Opening the CD with a hushed, quick count-in from Nash, Marrakesh Express showcases the bridge that Nash had to cross to move from the Hollies over into CSN. Heard in  it’s acoustic, guitar-driven form, the song perfectly matches the feeling of the end of the sixties  Hollies. You can almost hear Alan Clarke or Tony Hicks standing in Abbey Road studio waiting to jump in. No matter what they thought of the lyrics, the song would have at least hit the top forty in their capable hands.

What the demo proves is that Nash was right to leave his friends and band behind in England. The production that Stills would bring to the song a few months later is a direction that the Hollies would have never heard while in the studio. Nash, the life long custodian, historian and one suspects oft-times peace-keeper of CSN(&Y), saw something in his music that would go past 1968 or even next week’s hit single chart. And as good as Alan Clarke is (and he is great), there would never be a better singing partner for Nash than David Crosby. Stripped of it’s production the demo of Marrakesh Express still sounds like a summer afternoon with the smell of hash and patchouli in the air. It is just a joyful song and by going with Crosby and Stills, Nash kept it from becoming something else. (A possible bottom of the top-forty forgotten single?).

The slow fade of the sunshine and wonder of Marrakesh Express is quickly followed by Crosby’s Almost Cut My Hair. The contrast between the two songs almost encapsulates the mixed feelings to be found at the end of the sixties, joy and paranoia. Instead of the quick cutting guitar we are familiar with from the song’s original version on Déjà Vu, we hear the open-tuned full chord of an acoustic guitar which lingers on it’s last few notes every time the player strums. It creates an entirely different feeling for the song. Where we expect Crosby to jump in with the lyrics he hangs back for a second or two. This adds to the paranoid feeling of the song.

Without the attendant guitar cacophony of the original,  the haunting fear at the center of the song comes through in a much harsher light. With different vocal inflections, laying back on certain words and punching others a bit harder, it becomes a real showcase for what Crosby is capable of as a singer. The softness of his delivery on “separate the wheat from the chaff, cause I feel like I owe it to someone” moves the song from a defiant declaration to an introspective wish. The song is also a template for much of what Crosby would deliver over the next 40 years. This demo wouldn’t be out of place on his 1989 release Oh Yes I Can.

The third song on the CD is also it’s shortest. You Don’t Have to Cry by Stills is the sound of a stone bluesman sitting in a dark room at no particular hour of the day. It’s brevity makes a case for Stills intelligence as a songwriter. It takes both guts and brains to end a song as good as this one because you have said all you can in that brief space. Many other writers would have searched high and low for at least one more verse. Stills doesn’t.

As with Marrakesh Express, the production that Stills would add to the song opens it up in an unexpected way. Stripped of everything, including the gorgeous harmonies we have come to expect when we hear it, the song is a miracle of directness.

The CD moves through some of the more familiar songs of the CSN cannon. Long Time Gone(with Stills adding guitar, bass and drums) becomes a much more primitive call to action with a particularly urgent Crosby vocal. Love the One Your With finds Stills driving the song with the energy of a small tornado. It really reminds us of how percussive and forceful he is as a guitarist.

Several of the more unfamiliar songs on this release come from the group’s large solo catalog. By adding them to this release you can hear how they might have been changed by including the other members. The inherit gentleness and intimacy of Nash’s Sleep Song would have been giving a wider presentation with by adding Stills and Crosby on harmony. Having listened to so much of their music over the years my brian almost added the two when I heard this demo.

Singing Call was showcased as a much larger production on Stills’ second album. AS heard on Demos, the song’s fervent wish is much more honest and the driving exactness of his finger-picking is almost perfect. On Crosby’s Music is Love, the loss of the original arrangement that appeared on If I Could Only Remember My Name highlights the ability that he and Nash have to work so perfectly with Neil Young. It leaves you wishing that the three of them had done more direct acoustic work together over the years.

In a recent interview with a newspaper in Toledo, Ohio  Nash said that a Volume 2 of Demos is definitely in the works. Lets hope so. This is the CSN I always loved. The CD is a wonderful reminder of what is at the core of CSN, their voices and strong songs. Looking back at their careers and the music they released as both individuals and a group, you wish they would have left a lot of the studio production behind. This release showcase their greatest gifts, their own innate talent.  









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212 Frech

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