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Crosby, Stills & Nash Demos Review

Compilation. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Grasp just how brief but utterly magnificent their reign was

Sid Smith 2009

It is part of the enduring myth surrounding the making the first Crosby, Stills and Nash album that our three heroes more or less bumped into each other, accidentally burst into song and Bob’s your uncle – a ground-breaking supergroup was born.

Such mythologizing appeals directly into the public’s love and desire to maintain the plucky, spontaneous “let’s do the show right here” showbiz cliché. But such an account actually undersells the amount of work these three musicians put into honing their god-given talent.

These recordings show how the trio worked on crafting their songs and sometimes, it’s the contrast between its native state and its final shape that piques one’s interest.

In its demo form, Graham Nash’s Marrakesh Express is agreeable enough lightweight ditty. However, it’s only when Stephen Stills, in his ‘Captain Manyhands’ role, adds the sun-kissed guitars and evocative chugging Hammond organ that its bug-to-butterfly transition is completed.

That evolutionary process is particularly evident on two cuts from David Crosby. The belligerent, freak-flag flying protest of Almost Cut My Hair begins life introspectively musing upon an ideologically embattled America at war with itself. This version is the calm before the storm but no less powerful.

With Carry On, Crosby has the song mapped out but spends several minutes scat singing, chasing down both feel and mood, sensing the stress points and the potential paths to glory. Listening to it is eavesdropping on an artist caught in the creative act.

With the blueprints of the CSN masterplan laid out before us, we can clearly see that songs from both the first and second albums burst forth between 1968 and 1970. Though they would record many fine songs after this period, they would never quite equal the achievements of this time. When you add to this their respective solo records were all written and released in the same period, you begin to grasp just how brief but utterly magnificent their reign was.

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