Crosby, Stills & Nash (& Young)

Crosby, Stills & Nash: Crosby, Stills & Nash
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: Déjà Vu
Stephen Stills: Stephen Stills
David Crosby: If I Could Only Remember My Name
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: 4 Way Street
Graham Nash: Songs For Beginners
Stephen Stills: Stephen Stills 2
Manassas: Manassas
David Crosby and Graham Nash: Graham Nash/David Crosby
David Crosby and Graham Nash: Wind On The Water
Crosby, Stills & Nash: CSN
Crosby, Stills & Nash: Daylight Again

Crosby, Stills & Nash (Atlantic ’69) Rating: A
Comprised of former members of Hall Of Fame bands, including The Byrds (David Crosby), Buffalo Springfield (Stephen Stills), and The Hollies (Graham Nash), Crosby, Stills & Nash (that'll be CSN from here on in) comprised something of a supergroup (one of the first ones). Unlike most supergroups, however, CSN had spectacular chemistry and added up to more than the sum of their individual parts. They were never better than on their debut album, at which time their "we're all in this together" spirit was at its most joyously heartfelt and harmonious, before all the success (and all the drugs). Of course, what stands out most about them are their soaring 3-part harmonies, which are uniquely their own, plus they were all talented songwriters who generally wrote separately rather than together, which made their albums less than perfectly cohesive wholes perhaps but which also made them extremely interesting. This band and album probably embody the "Woodstock era" above all others (aside from the actual Woodstock soundtrack and movie), but there's a purity and an honesty to the music here that still resonates and gives the album a timeless quality too. Stephen Stills, by far the best musician in the band who deserves most of the credit for shaping the sound of the music on the album (his mates called him "Captain Manyhands" due to his talent for playing multiple instruments) starts things off with the album's most ambitious track, the much-played, multi-sectioned "Suite Judy Blue Eyes," an ode to then-girlfriend Judy Collins. What's there to say about this one? You've probably heard it plenty of times and know that it's great, so rather than further describe what may be the band's signature song, let's just move on, shall we? OK, I'll note that my favorite part is when Stills sings "can I tell it like it is?", and that that's Spanish you hear towards the end there, but moving on, "Marrakesh Express," actually the first single from the album, is very Simon & Garfunkel-like and shows how Nash's songs tended to be charmingly light and catchy, though some would put this in less flattering (i.e. "lightweight") terms. By contrast, "Guinevere" exemplified how Crosby's songs were typically more abstract and atmospheric and required more listens to fully appreciate. Stills "You Don't Have To Cry" is certainly easy to appreciate and is an upbeat, exemplary example of how these guys could produce pure magic simply by singing together (this is the song on which they discovered this, in fact, so this song is historically important in addition to being musically engaging). Nash's "Pre-Road Downs" is one of the more rocking tunes here, and though it's not one of the more memorable songs here it's still a good groovin' tune (and a surprising one given that Nash is usually the least rocking member of the trio), and "Wooden Ships," a co-write among Crosby (primarily), Stills, and the Jefferson Airplane's Paul Kantner, is an excellent, dramatic, moody epic, though I prefer the Jefferson Airplane's even more monumental version. "Lady Of The Island" is a pretty if insubstantial Nash ballad, and then the album ends with three of its best songs, beginning with Stills "Helplessly Hoping," a sparse, lovely harmony-laden showcase that's quite affecting. "Long Time Coming," written by Crosby the night RFK was killed (these guys are known for their political, socially conscious lyrics), is a great rocker on which Stills (though much of the album is acoustic, you gotta love his thick, raw electric guitar sound both here and elsewhere) and Crosby (with one of his most intense and flat-out best lead vocals) in particular shine (that's Dallas Taylor playing drums, I should note, though CSN - mostly Stills - handle the rest). Finally, "49 Bye Byes" is another melodic mid-tempo Stills epic on which the guys sound so good singing together that it makes me feel good as well. Anyway, that's my detailed rundown of this classic self-titled debut album, which sounds as casual and effortless as the album cover looks.

Déjà Vu (Atlantic ’70) Rating: A
By borrowing Neil Young (also ex-Buffalo Springfield) fresh off his triumphant first stint with Crazy Horse, CSN became CSNY. The addition of Young also gave Déjà Vu a harder edged guitar sound than Crosby, Stills, & Nash, while Dallas Taylor is back on drums and Greg Reeves was brought in to handle bass duties. Despite dealing with tragic events (Crosby’s girlfriend died in a car crash) and having much less harmonious sessions as the band’s egos were starting to get in the way of each other (probably not helped by the addition of another big ego who wasn’t exactly known for being a team player), the end result was another classic, era defining album. Like the last one, this album starts with its best song, Stills’ “Carry On,” which is a serious contender for the best song these guys ever did together. In addition to their typical catchy melodies and excellent harmonies, this one features a nice mix of acoustic and electric instruments, plus it also features moody keyboards prominently, as the song has a loose, jammy psychedelic vibe that’s intoxicating as Stills and Young in particular spar to alluring effect. “Teach Your Children” is the first of two supremely tuneful Nash contributions, this one featuring Jerry Garcia helping out on pedal steel guitar and thoughtful, affecting lyrics, before Crosby lends the intense, raw, theatrical rocker “Almost Cut My Hair,” more of a grower track which I resisted at first but have grown to like a lot (p.s. he ultimately decides against cutting it because “I feel like letting my freak flag fly”). The slow, impossibly sad “Helpless” is a classic Neil ballad that’s greatly enhanced by those CSN backing harmonies, and then comes their definitive electrified take on Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” featuring more memorable Young-Stills guitar dueling and “they make you feel like you were there” lyrics that are all the more remarkable given that Joni wasn’t even at Woodstock! Crosby’s harmony-laden title track is another repeat listens sort of effort that I’ve grown to really like, as it has a strange, mystical ambiance and lots of interesting details; I just love that little “na na na” vocal bridge and the guitars and harmonica in the background. I'd expect that Nash’s happily domesticated “Our House” would be capable of charming all but the most jaded cynic (who will likely hate this impossibly upbeat and singable song with a fiery passion!), before Stills short (2:04), sparse guitars plus vocal “4 + 20” continues with a pretty effort, albeit one that’s less musically substantial than the preceding songs (in general Stills takes more of a backseat on this album than on the debut which he dominated). By contrast, Neil’s dramatic ballad “Country Girl” is a big production number, though even at its most epic it’s tinged with melancholic overtones as per usual with Neil Young songs. Finally, the Stills/Young co-written “Everybody I Love You” (also short at 2:21) has a propulsive, chugging groove and more harmonized vocals, plus idealistic lyrics which declared that this Woodstock institution wasn’t quite ready to let that dream die, thereby anchoring the ‘60s to the ‘70s. Of course, such sentiments seem trite today and perhaps less than completely honest given how these guys couldn’t even get along with each other let alone everybody else! But back then it seemed like CSN, or CSNY, simply couldn’t be stopped, as few artists have started their career with a stronger 1-2 punch than Crosby, Stills, & Nash followed by Déjà Vu.

Stephen Stills (Atlantic ’70) Rating: A-
Crosby, Stills & Nash (with or without Neil Young) were more a democratic, loose collective than your typical band, so when they were no longer getting along it made sense that they'd each record a solo album after Déjà Vu. The first of these, by Stephen Stills, is best known for his only major solo hit "Love The One You're With," and for its many guest appearances from the likes of Ringo Starr, Booker T. Jones, Jimi Hendrix AND Eric Clapton, and then-flame Rita Coolidge (as well as Crosby and Nash on backing vocals, naturally). This eclectic and mostly enjoyable album begins with the upbeat "Love The One You're With," the catchy acoustic and keyboards driven ditty that remains his signature solo song; sure, there are those who would complain that it promotes promiscuity, but they need to lighten up (or perhaps get laid more)! "Do For The Others" is a nice mellow acoustic song, a real grower track, and the far more ambitious "Church (Part Of Someone)" is indeed church-y, as this big, epic ballad, an easy album highlight, is one of several songs here with gospel-flavored backing vocals. I really like the two later such efforts as well, including "Sit Yourself Down," which delivers catchy, up-tempo electric guitar rock, and "We Are Not Helpless," an ambitious answer song to Neil Young's "Helpless" that's perhaps a bit overblown but which has an epic quality (both the before and after ballad parts and the livelier mid-section) that makes for a grand finale. The middle of the album, on back-to-back tracks, is where Hendrix and then Clapton appear, and though perhaps Jimi's presence on "Old Times Good Times" is disappointingly more low-key than you'd expect, he does solo a bit, as does Stills on keyboards, and it's still a good if not great rocker. I prefer "Go Back Home," in large part because Clapton surprisingly makes his presence felt far more forcefully than Jimi (Stills' pal to whom he dedicated this album), with some great guitar soloing. As for the rest of the album, "To A Flame" is a pretty late night ballad, "Black Queen" is a folk blues that's a good showcase for Stills' skillful acoustic guitar playing (although he tries some rough voiced growling like Van Morrison but he's not near the singer that Van is), and "Cherokee" is interestingly unclassifiable, as it features flutes, saxophones, and strings (the works, basically) on a song that's sometimes folksy, sometimes jazzy, and at other times moodily recalls spy flick music. Anyway, on the whole I appreciate the spirit of adventure offered up on this album, as "Captain Manyhands" again plays a multitude of instruments and stamps his own personality on each song, regardless of the high profile guest musicians helping him out. There's a nice mix of electric and acoustic styles, the lyrics are singer-songwriter personal, and the entire whole works extremely well, even if it's slightly less impressive than his recent band work.

If I Could Only Remember My Name (Atlantic ’71) Rating: A-
David Crosby's first and best solo album is definitely what I'd call a "mood album." Though few of its ethereal, dream-like songs (the album sounds like the evocative cover looks) aren't all that memorable individually, when listened to as a whole this album casts a hypnotic spell. Although this was definitely David Crosby's album, as these are his songs (a couple are co-writes) and he sings lead (very well) throughout, there's no denying that he was significantly helped by a virtual army of superstar sidekicks, including Graham Nash, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and members of the Bay area bands Jefferson Airplane (soon to be Jefferson Starship; in fact much of this same cast recorded Blows Against The Empire, the first post-Airplane album released as Paul Kantner and Jefferson Starship), Grateful Dead, and Santana. Jerry Garcia in particular is a standout, his superb guitar playing elevating songs such as the intense 8-minute epic "Cowboy Movie" (the most rocking song on the album) and "Laughing," which is mellow (Jerry plays pedal steel here) like most of the other numbers but whose melody is a bit weightier. Elsewhere, you get typical Crosby hippy sentiments ("Music Is Love," "peace is not too much to ask") that are either charming or annoying depending on your perspective, lots of layered CSN-styled harmonies (minus Stills), and apt song titles such as "Song With No Words," which has vocals but no actual words; this song and "What Are Their Names," on which Neil Young and Grace Slick lend powerful backing vocals, start slowly but build up to an impressive momentum. Anyway, on the whole this is an impressive if somewhat overlooked album whose reputation seems to have grown in recent years (it's writer/noted musicologist Colin Larkin's favorite album of all time, for example). It may seem insubstantial and a bit boring at first, but spend some time playing it, preferably from start to finish, and I think that most fans, certainly most CSN fans, will learn to like it a lot. I know that I do.

4 Way Street (Atlantic ’70) Rating: B
This live album captures recordings taken from various venues during their 1970 tour, before they went their separate ways. And I'm going to keep this brief, because the fact of the matter is I almost never listen to this album. The reasons for this? For starters, I think that the guys' mellower material comes across better in the studio than on stage; disc one is basically acoustic, and on the plus side it does feature some good songs not yet released (like “The Lee Shore”) amid too many solo songs and performances. Secondly, there are several better live options with regards to hearing Neil Young rock out; disc two is mostly him and Stills dueling on guitar, though "Ohio," "Carry On" (unsurprisingly), and "Southern Man" don't appear on what I consider to be Young's best live releases (I'm not familiar enough with Stills' live albums to comment on them). It's not like this is a bad album, as live albums go it's a pretty good one because of its extended guitar epics (“Carry On” and “Southern Man” both exceed 13 minutes) and because it shows off the talents of each individual member. Plus, the band, also including Calvin "Fuzzy" Samuels on bass and Johnny Barbata (later in Jefferson Airplane and then Jefferson Starship) on drums, sounds good even if the vocals are notably inferior to the studio recordings. If nothing else this album is notable because it hit #1 on the U.S. Billboard charts, which showed just how big these guys were at the time, at least when they were able to put their petty differences aside and release fresh product under the Crosby, Stills & Nash (or Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) moniker.

Songs For Beginners (Atlantic ’71) Rating: B+
Fittingly, Graham Nash was the last CSN&Y member to release a solo album, completing an impressive initial run of solo albums as the CSN&Y clan continued their creative roll. I say “fittingly” because Nash was always the “peacemaker” in the band and the one with (seemingly) the smallest ego. As such, this is the most modest solo album, with simple pop songs and ballads making up the majority of the material. Fortunately, most of the songs are very good, and like Crosby he gets plenty of help from other famous musicians here, including Crosby, Young, Garcia, Phil Lesh, Dave Mason, David Lindley, and then-girlfriend Rita Coolidge (who had left Stills for Nash!), among others. There are a few songs here that, while not unpleasant, sort of come and go for me, and Nash’s thin, high-pitched vocals are perhaps better suited for harmony singing (him and Crosby are the main sources of the CSN&Y harmony magic) and wear thin over the course of an entire album. So this album has its flaws, but it’s still an enjoyable listen, with songs that range from being stridently political (“Military Madness,” “Chicago/We Can Change The World”) to (more often) more personal reflections, some of which (“Simple Man”) are almost uncomfortably honest. The catchy “Military Madness” gets the album off to a great start and is a definite highlight here (I really like Mason’s low-key guitar playing on this track), and “I Used To Be A King” is another standout track, with Garcia excelling on pedal steel guitar and Nash sounding wounded but defiant (“someone is going to take my heart, but no one is going to break my heart again”). This song (which recalls his prior “King Midas in Reverse” with The Hollies) and others are probably about his breakup with Joni Mitchell, but “Be Yourself” provides a more general but highly effective bit of sloganeering (I’ve had a hard time getting the chorus of this one out of my head). Other songs such as “Better Days” and “There’s Only One” start slow and sparse but only get really good later on when they become more fully fleshed out (harmonies, saxophone, etc.), while others (“Wounded Bird,” “Simple Man,” "Man In The Mirror") don’t really do it for me. The album’s most famous song(s), indeed Nash’s most famous solo song, period, is “Chicago/We Can Change The World,” which had appeared on 4 Way Street but this studio version is far superior. Though its naïve, idealistic lyrics are dated to specific events in 1968, the music is edgier than elsewhere (though that’s not saying much I suppose) and the chorus is extremely catchy, making for a winning finale (the other song not yet mentioned, "Sleep Song," is aptly titled as it's a pretty, pleasant little lullaby that's perfect for bedtime listening). On the whole, Songs For Beginners has its faults but it’s still a highly worthwhile purchase for CSN&Y fans, or for anyone who simply likes well-crafted pop songs.

Stephen Stills 2 (Atlantic ’71) Rating: B
This second Stills solo album suffers in comparison to his first, and by the fact that he tries too many things and fails to write many memorable songs. Which isn't to say that this is a bad album, in fact I think it's good due to mostly solid tunes (especially on side one) and its accomplished musicianship, particularly Stills on guitar. Again there are guest appearances, but they're less memorable than on his (or Crosby's) first solo album, though Jerry Garcia does lend some notable pedal steel guitar to the albums very good first song (and first single), "Change Partners," which in addition to its country touches has a big harmonized gospel-y chorus that makes it the most instantly memorable song on the album. "Nothin' To Do But Today" is another strong effort due to Stills' bluesy guitar and some funky grooves, though I wish that the brief female soul diva vocals at around the 2-minute mark were utilized a bit more. "Fishes and Scorpions" is interestingly atmospheric if decidedly abstract and surges when Eric Clapton adds some wailing electric guitar, while "Sugar Babe" is elevated by its uplifting piano melody and soaring harmonized chorus. So far so good, right? Stills' impressive fingerpickin' is what stands out on the sparse, moody "Know You Got To Run," though this one's a bit lacking in the memorability department, while the horns come out in full force (remember this was when Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago were hot) on the symphonic "Open Secret," which features another big (if not exactly hooky) chorus and some surprising jazz piano and Latin percussion. It works surprisingly well, though it's also the type of track that got this album dismissed by many as being self-indulgent. Honestly, aside from the lovely acoustic ballad "Singin' Call" and the upbeat, catchy pop tune "Marianne" (on which Stills sings in a high-pitched falsetto), side two is much less impressive, as the topical lyrics can be quite preachy and the mostly horn-heavy or acoustic-based music fails to make up for it. Side two isn't bad, just seriously flawed and unmemorable on the whole, and though Stills' elaborate reworking of the Buffalo Springfield gem "Bluebird" as "Bluebird Revisited" has its moments and has really grown on me, like the rest of this album it's also not quite as good as what came before it.

Manassas (Atlantic ’72) Rating: A
The first album recorded with Manassas was another career peak for Stephen Stills, albeit one that's too often forgotten today. Really, would it kill a radio programmer to play one of the 21 mostly-stellar songs on this double album rather than playing "For What It's Worth" or "Love The One You're With" for the millionth time? But I digress; though Stills was clearly the leader, Manassas was a true band of extremely accomplished players who could play anything, and they often did on this album, which is neatly divided into four parts. But first a word about the band members, most of whom came from the Flying Burrito Brothers or had past associations with CSN. Stills provided the vast majority of the songs along with his usual lead vocals, guitars, and keyboards, while ace second banana Chris Hillman (who had played the same role in the Byrds and the Burritos) also sang and played guitar and mandolin. Also making notable contributions were Al Perkins on guitar and steel guitar, Paul Harris on keyboards, Joe Lala on percussion and backing vocals, and old CSN cronies Calvin "Fuzzy" Samuels on bass/backing vocals and Dallas Taylor on drums. As for the album, like I said it's divided into four sections: "The Raven" delivers mostly rock for five songs before "The Wilderness" delivers alternately weepy and jaunty country and/or bluegrass for six songs. "Consider" is primarily folk rock (sometimes moody and evocative, other times lighter) for six songs aside from "The Love Gangster," which was co-written and performed by Bill Wyman, who famously said he would've left the Rolling Stones for Manassas had they simply asked him! Who knows if it's true, it's hard to imagine that he really would've left the Stones in their prime for a Stills project (let's face it Stills was hardly a model of stability), but either way it's a cool anecdote, and the album concludes with the self-explanatory "Rock & Roll is Here to Stay" section, though the also aptly titled "Blues Man" actually ends the album with a spare acoustic blues number. I kinda like the song groupings, as it seems to make this long (70 minutes) album more manageable by breaking it up into chunks. What's impressive is how adept the band is at each style, as each section serves up its fair share of highlights, though if I could complain about the album I'd say that it has tons of really good songs but few if any that I'd regard as all-time classics (unlike that other excellent short-lived band Derek and the Dominos, whose Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs was another double album recorded in Miami's Criteria Studios with the same staff more or less (no Tom Dowd this time, though). "Song Of Love," "Anyway," "Both of Us (Bound To Lose)," "Colorado" (which reminds me of "Southern Cross" though of course this came first), "So Begins The Talk," "It Doesn't Matter," "Johnny's Garden," "Move Around," "The Love Gangster," "What To Do," "Right Now," and the epic "The Treasure (Take One)" (by far the album's longest song at 8 minutes) are among the highlights to me (most are in the rock/folk rock categories), at least today they are, but you'll likely have your own favorites depending on where your taste lies. I could elaborate more on individual songs but we'd be here all day, so suffice it to say that Manassas is a treasure trove of really good and quite varied music. Even their harmonies are first rate, if less distinctive than CSN, and it’s also worth noting that though this album is basically forgotten aside from serious hardcore music fans these days, at the time of its release it actually hit #5 on the U.S. Billboard charts. The albums at #4 and #3? The first David Crosby and Graham Nash album (titled Graham Nash/David Crosby) and Neil Young’s Harvest, respectfully.

Graham Nash/David Crosby (Atlantic ’72) Rating: B+
This was released around the same time as Stills’ Manassas album, and though this first David Crosby and Graham Nash studio collaboration as a duo wasn’t nearly as impressive (despite its slightly higher chart placement), it’s still a largely enjoyable album that holds up well all these years later. Surprisingly, I far prefer Nash’s songs on this album, as before this I would’ve considered myself more of a Crosby fan. But Crosby’s songs here, while suitably hazy and atmospheric as per usual, are also a bit lethargic and simply aren’t all that memorable (“The Wall Song,” with backing help from several Grateful Dead members, has a bit more of a melody than the others and is probably his best effort here as a result). Most of these Crosby songs have their impressive moments that only reveal themselves after repeat listens (I like the guitar playing on “Whole Cloth,” the vocals on “Page 43,” and so on), but on the whole I don’t think that David was at his best here, whereas I really like just about all of Nash’s songs aside from the obvious 1-minute filler “Blacknotes.” Nash wrote the album’s two moderately successful hit singles, including album opener “Southbound Train,” a lovely ballad notable for its imperfectly played but affecting, lonesome harmonica, Jerry Garcia’s weepy pedal steel guitar playing, and of course their great harmonies. That harmonica appears again on the “nice try but not nearly as good” “Strange Room,” and again still on the livelier, hookier “Frozen Smiles,” whereas electric piano is the primary instrument on the soaring “Girl To Be On My Mind.” Saving the best for last, the autobiographical “Immigration Song,” the album’s other single, is justifiably probably their most famous song as a duo, as this is a righteously pissed off and catchy rocker (Graham Nash actually rocking!) on which Dave Mason lends some added guitar muscle (including the solo). Elsewhere, the primary backing musicians were comprised of The Section (guitarist Danny Kortchmar, bassist Leland Sklar, drummer Russell Kunkel, and electric pianist Craig Doerge), who would go on to play on tons of ‘70s West Coast sessions, so needless to say the support they provide here is appropriately professional and accomplished. Anyway, this is a good if not entirely consistent album that’s certainly a worthy entry within the overall CSN catalogue, even if it fails to measure up to the best albums within the CSN family.

Wind On the Water (ABC Records ’75) Rating: B+
I’m going to skip ahead a bit here. To summarize the early ‘70s for CSN(&Y), at least what I haven’t already covered, Manassas released an extremely disappointing second album, Down The Road in 1973, the same year that Hillman and Crosby rejoined The Byrds for an underwhelming reunion album (called simply Byrds) and Nash released his second solo album, Wild Tales, which failed to measure up to Songs For Beginners (notice a trend here?). Neil Young fared far better artistically if not commercially during this period, releasing his acclaimed “ditch trilogy” (Time Fades Away, On The Beach, Tonight’s The Night) from 1973-75, and in 1974 of course CSN&Y released the useless 11-track compilation So Far (buy a later more comprehensive comp. or the first two albums, okay?), which of course hit #1 on the U.S. Billboard chart (the success of this album didn’t exactly provide the guys with much incentive to release a new studio album together, did it?). 1974 also saw CSN&Y launching the first stadium rock tour, which is certainly historically important though its influence (skyrocketing ticket prices and huge, impersonal venues) was mostly negative, certainly from a fans perspective. Anyway, that tidy wrap-up out of the way (Stills also released Stills and Stephen Stills Live in 1975, neither of which I’m familiar enough to comment on), let’s talk about the second David Crosby and Graham Nash studio album, Wind On the Water, shall we? I find this album quite pleasurable from start to finish, as both Crosby and Nash are in good form this time out, plus the album is surprisingly rocking at times as the Section are given plenty of room to shine (there’s quite a few notable guitar solos from Kortchmar and David Lindley throughout the album). My favorite songs are probably Crosby’s “Carry Me,” lyrically partially inspired by the death of Crosby’s mother, though it’s the duo’s harmony magic that makes it, and “Love Work Out,” a surprisingly intense Nash number with the album’s most inspired guitar soloing (I like the moody keyboards here as well). There are plenty of other good songs elsewhere, including a rare livelier Crosby song (“Low Down Payment”) amid his more usual assortment of hazy, atmospheric ballads, and more rocking than usual songs from Nash, most of which manage to be catchy as well. The duo often duet on the verses as well as the choruses (not that Crosby’s songs usually have choruses, mind you), and if I could complain about the album, which sound-wise is more West Coast rock rather than soft rock or folk, I’d say that it’s consistently very good but rarely rises to greatness.

CSN (Atlantic ’77) Rating: B+
1976 saw the release of the Crosby & Nash album Whistling Down The Wire and the Stills-Young release Long May You Run (neither essential though Neil's "Long May You Run" is a great song), but when Neil ditched Stephen on tour (famously leaving a telegram that said: "Dear Stephen, funny how some things that start spontaneously end that way. Eat a peach. Neil."), the original CSN lineup finally happened again (Crosby and Nash taking back a depressed Stills, basically). And CSN is a solid album, similar in quality to the last few I've reviewed, actually (save Manassas which is far superior), though not nearly as good as the earliest stuff when they were still young, hungry, and firing on all cylinders. I'd say that the highlights here are probably Crosby's "Shadow Captain," which is moody as per usual but has a nice little groove to it as well, Stills' "See The Changes," a simple pretty harmony showcase, Crosby's pretty, autobiographical "Anything At All," where he admits "I'm the world's most opinionated man," Nash's ambitious, dramatic ("melodramatic" would be appropriate too) acid trip recollection "Cathedral," Stills' boldly titled "Dark Star," one of several songs here with a funky, Latin flavor (the song also features solo turns on organ and acoustic guitar), Nash's "Just A Song Before I Go," the album's most famous song and lone hit (for all Nash's unfair reputation as the lightweight in the group, most of the band's hits were his), and Stills' energetic, interestingly atypical (and strangely titled) "I Give You Give Blind," which has some good guitar as well, though its strings are very much of its era. On the whole, the songs on this album are more personal (Stills' marital problems, for example) and less political than in the past, and though perhaps some of the songs aren't all that memorable, they're rarely unpleasant even if there are few songs here that I'd consider CSN classics. Still, it was good to have the original trio back together again (unsurprisingly, Stills is again the standout musician on guitar), and the album was significantly more commercially successful than any of their recent independent work, hitting #2 on the U.S. charts and going platinum four times over.

Daylight Again (Atlantic ’82) Rating: B+
Originally conceived as a Stills-Nash project, Daylight Again became the third CSN album when Crosby (in poor shape due to his bad drug habit) was invited to contribute at the last minute. As such, Crosby’s contributions are fairly minimal; he wrote and sang one song, sings lead on another, and provides harmonies elsewhere, though not as many as usual as Art Garfunkel (on the two hits) and Timothy B. Schmit (also on those two songs and four others as well) had already contributed harmonies and Crosby felt bad about removing their efforts and doubted he could improve upon them anyway. So, this is really a CSN album in name only (let’s face it the CSN name was always going to sell more than any smaller configuration), but regardless it’s still another good album, as Nash and (especially) Stills pick up the songwriting slack (for the first time there are outside contributors as well). It’s not without problems, as the bright slick ‘80s production definitely makes some songs less than they could’ve been, and several of these songs wouldn’t be all that memorable regardless, though few are less than pleasant, as per usual. The highlights here are the two hits, both of which are worthy of comparison to the band’s best prior tracks, plus I’d argue that Crosby’s pretty, moody piano ballad “Delta” is also among his best songs ever. As for the hits, Nash’s top 10 U.S. hit “Wasted On The Way” is a wistful, touching, regret-filled, and catchy pop ditty of the type he does so well, while Stills’ more expansive “Southern Cross” (#18 U.S.) is simply a timeless laid-back classic, in particular its big singable chorus. As for the rest of the songs, most are quite listenable and some are notably different, such as “Into the Darkness,” which is quite heavy by Nash’s standards, though his vocals are a bit shrill on it. As per usual, Stills’ guitar playing elevates that song and several others (like his own merely solid up-tempo efforts “Since I Met You” and “Too Much Love To Hide”), while Crosby provides another strong lead vocal on “Might As Well Have A Good Time,” one of the few true CSN tunes here (though none of them wrote it, Judy Henske and Craig Doerge did, they at least co-wrote all the others; all told there are nine different songwriters credited on the album). Another pretty "soft rock" ballad is Stills' "You Are Alive," and the short title track provides a nice low-key finale that yields one final surprise towards the end by reprising their earlier non-album track “Find The Cost Of Freedom” (the b-side to “Ohio” in 1970). On the whole, Daylight Again is no classic but it does have a few classic tracks ("Wasted On The Way," "Southern Cross," "Delta"), which is certainly better than anything CSN has done since, as they’ve mostly been relegated to being a nostalgia-based oldies act. Only Neil Young has really remained relevant in the intervening years, and he’s had his share of ups and downs too.

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