Songs for Beginners
First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2008, Volume 15, #11
Written by John Metzger
Mon November 10, 2008, 06:30 AM CST
In 1971, when he issued his solo debut Songs for Beginners, Graham Nash already had a well-established reputation as a pacifist and political activist, thanks to his collaborations with David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Neil Young. By beginning the endeavor with Military Madness and concluding it with Chicago/We Can Change the World, he cemented this perception of his work. Thirty-seven years later, these tunes remain firmly entrenched within the public’s collective consciousness, due to their unwavering presence on the radio as well as in the set lists for his concerts. In many ways, however, Military Madness and Chicago/We Can Change the World are red herrings because they aren’t necessarily representative of the thematic or musical constructs of the endeavor.
Songs for Beginners was born within the same creative, communal atmosphere that also spawned Jefferson Starship’s Blows Against the Empire and David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name. Not surprisingly, then, Nash’s debut boasts a similar smattering of special guests. Phil Lesh, for example, provides the hefty bottom-end that underscores I Used to Be a King, and Bobby Keys laces There’s Only One with his soulful, R&B-drenched saxophone flights. Elsewhere, Neil Young, performing as Joe Yankee, and Jerry Garcia respectively lend piano and pedal steel guitar accompaniments to several tracks, while Dave Mason, Rita Coolidge, and David Lindley also contribute to the affair.
Like the other star-studded endeavors that emerged from America’s west coast scene during the late 1960s and early 1970s, all of the collaborative appearances on Songs for Beginners are surprisingly ego-free. The fact that Nash’s pals are famous in their own right has little to do with the success or failure of the endeavor because none of them draw attention to themselves. Instead, their contributions are delivered in such an unforced and unpretentious manner that it is clear that their presence ultimately was designed simply to serve Nash’s vision for the project.
Without a doubt, Songs for Beginners is a deceptively simple set, so much so that it’s easy to overlook its charms and dismiss the collection entirely. Nevertheless, the outing isn’t nearly as innocent and carefree as Our House’s vision of domestic bliss or Teach Your Children’s social idealism might suggest. Spurred by the collapse of Nash’s relationship with Joni Mitchell, the bulk of Songs for Beginners revolves around the complexity of his personal reflections on life, love, and loss. His optimistic outlook remains intact, but, at the same time, he also delves deeper into the darkness of the world as well as the heartache that had crept into the lives of him and his pals.
Songs for Beginners is, then, an album that is as much about taking charge of one’s life as it is about making a positive difference in the world. Aside from Be Yourself, the effort’s utterly forgettable centerpiece, Songs for Beginners is a remarkably focused affair. At first glance, it might seem to speak to a particular moment in the past. Yet, bolstered by its surround sound presentation as well as a carefully selected array of Nash’s personal photographs, the elegantly introspective statements that he originally outlined with the endeavor remain strikingly relevant today.
Of Further Interest...
Songs for Beginners is available
from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box