Crosby, Stills and Nash
First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2009, Volume 16, #7
Written by John Metzger
Mon July 6, 2009, 06:30 AM CDT
Save for a few brief moments during the early 1970s, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash were never particularly prolific. In fact, since issuing their collaborative album Daylight Again in 1982, their output — both collectively and individually — has slowed to barely a trickle. For what it’s worth, there has been a flurry of activity emanating from the group’s camp of late, though little of it has anything at all to do with the production of new material. In fact, even Crosby, Stills and Nash’s forthcoming album — which, helmed by Rick Rubin, promises to be its best outing in years — will be comprised entirely of cover songs. Everything else — from an unimaginatively titled retrospective (Greatest Hits) to a solo recording session by Stills (Just Roll Tape) to refurbished renditions of Nash’s Songs for Beginners and Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name — has revolved around the notion of reigniting interest in the ensemble’s back catalogue.
Not surprisingly, Demos largely continues this trend. Yet, its wider scope combined with its careful presentation reveals an insightful glimpse at the inner workings of Crosby, Stills and Nash. All of the tracks featured on Demos were recorded during the fertile period that ran from the summer of 1968 through the winter of 1971. During this time, Crosby, Stills and Nash issued two collaborative albums (its self-titled debut and Deja Vu) as well as four solo projects. It’s clear from the outset of Demos that the fiercely competitive spirit that drove each of the ensemble’s members had yet to take its toll upon their working relationship. As a result, this aspect of their personalities was still a functional part of the trio’s chemistry.
The most striking thing about Demos is the way in which it highlights the individual performance and writing styles of Crosby, Stills, and Nash. In some cases, the songs were ripe and ready long before the trio had an opportunity to collaborate on them. Stills’ compositions are delivered as solo acoustic numbers, and although they are a little rough around the edges, they particularly feel as if they are close to completion. Save for a rendition of Chicago that is so skeletal that its state of urgency is significantly reduced, Nash’s contributions to Demos also are nearing their final stages, needing only a small push or two to get them out the door and on their way.
On the other hand, at least based on the material contained on Demos, Crosby’s songs largely were works in progress when he brought them to the attention of Stills and Nash. It’s almost as if Crosby was the only one who left room in his compositions for his pals’ contributions. Deja Vu, for example, not only begs for the trio’s trademark harmonies, but as the tune nears its conclusion, it veers off its path as Crosby begins to scat. By this point, his interest in exploring jazz chords and vocal phrases was already well-entrenched in his output, but used here, the stylistic shift draws a direct correlation to his relationship with Joni Mitchell. It also doesn’t work. Elsewhere, Long Time Gone is more funky than bracing, and although Crosby’s weary delivery on Almost Cut My Hair bears an ominous tone, the tune also lacks the defiant edginess necessary for it to be convincing.
Naturally, none of the tracks on Demos is capable of surpassing its familiar counterpart. Once completed, the polished precision of the final arrangements not only illuminated the melodic structures of the songs, but it also allowed the sunlight-burst of Crosby, Stills and Nash’s harmonies to have the greatest impact imaginable. There is no denying the fact that Demos is filled with a solid slate of material. Yet, as its title inherently suggests, it offers mere possibilities rather than fulfilled promises. ½
Of Further Interest...
Demos is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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