Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
CSNY Recordings, Rhino
To many, CSNY is a artifact of the hippie era, known more for writing a song in an insurance ad ("Our House") then for the other accomplishments they achieved. At loose ends during 1968, and either fired from their respective bands (David Crosby from The Byrds, Stephen Stills from Buffalo Springfield), or, in case of Graham Nash, leaving The Hollies and journeying to America, somehow the trio met up in California and the rest, as they say, is history. Crosby, Stills and Paul Kantner from the Jefferson Airplane wrote "Wooden Ships", and a chance meeting and reunion with Nash at Joni Mitchell's house led the three to work together. Their first album, Crosby, Stills and Nash was released in 1968 and contained "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" and Nash's "Marrakesh Express". It was huge. Problem was, Stephen Stills played most of the instruments on the record, and to tour, they would have to find another member. Enter Neil Young, familiar to Stills from the Buffalo Springfield days. The bands third show was Woodstock.
It was this rarefied air the band found themselves, and for the first part of the '70s they released the studio album Deja Vu, a live album Four Way Street, and then went about their separate ways. Talks of recording or a tour came and went, each member doing their own projects- Crosby with If Only I Could Remember My Name, Stills' debut, Nash's Songs For Beginners and Neil Young's early masterpiece After the Gold Rush so it was 1974 before they found enough time to tour. After a few weeks practicing at Young's Broken Arrow ranch, the foursome found themselves in front of hundreds of thousands on a tour arranged by Bill Graham. They sang 3-4 hours a show, each performing on each others songs. Nash has stated since that they were "a pretty decent rock band."
He's damning them with faint praise. From the opener "Love The One You're With", with a swirling, guitar-led, percussion heavy intro that evidentially finds all four in harmony, to the anguish of Crosby's "Almost Cut My Hair" or the driving Nash-penned "Immigration Man", this was more than decent. Add in Neil Young, who had released Harvest in 1972 and weathered the death of Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten (the subject of "The Needle and the Damage Done") on the way to becoming a superstar, you had a band that could go from harmonizing folk to screaming rockers on a dime.
This magnificent box set, which contains 3 cds, a dvd and a 188-page book drawn from several shows, is an embarrassment of riches. Divided as was the shows into an electric set, followed by an acoustic, and then electric again to end the evening, this is a band that when pressed, had no peers. Crosby called the 1974 outing "The Doom Tour" and their drug and sexual intake was legendary, not to mention them being four of the most cantankerous and ego-driven musicians around, it's a miracle they survived at all. But a listen to "Helpless" or "Revolution Blues" from Young, or their take on the Beatles "Blackbird" erases all squabbles and you are left with their glorious sound, 4 incredible voices, and some of the best songwriters of their day. Every personality is sharply etched, each by themselves and in unison, and each track is a wondrous joy to behold. A "pretty decent rock band" they surely were. And more.