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George Harrison "Extra Texture (Read All About It)"
You/The Answer's At The End/This Guitar (Can't Keep From
Crying)/Ooh Baby (You Know That I Love You)/World Of Stone//A Bit More Of
You/Can't Stop Thinking About You/Tired Of Midnight Blue/Grey Cloudy Lies/His
Name Is Legs (Ladies and Gentlemen)
- I'm sorry there's a table on your foot, I'm sorry!"
does this mean? Read on, read on, the answer's at the end - well about the
There's a telling moment right at the very end of
this album's second track 'The Answer's At The End' where, five years on from
the glorious 'Isn't It A Pity?', Harrison returns to that song's themes for the
first time. But instead of a weary sigh writ large about the major subject of
mankind's inability to realise the hurt he's doing George sounds small and guilt-ridden,
turning inward with sights turned so much lower on a song about personal guilt.
He repeats the same trick a few tracks later when self-confessed sequel 'This
Guitar Can't Keep From Crying' starts reaching for the soaring guitar solo that
suddenly made the painful world of 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' so powerful -
and George simply prods and pokes at the song's main riff, parrot-style
(neither come close to the beauty of future 'sequel' 'Here Comes The Moon', as
here the innovation seems to end with the idea of writing a return instead of
making the song great even if the first song had never existed). With new songs
becoming harder to write due to a combination of all sorts of issues during
1974-1975, George reaches back to 1971 for a Ronnie Spector sessions outtake.
And because he can't think of anything else to pad out the album he reaches for
the same recording again to open side two. Just seven years on from what's
generally hailed as his true entry to songwriting on a level of John and Paul,
just five years on from being celebrated as the world's greatest ex-Beatle and
a mere four years after having top 40 hit singles good enough running spare to
sit on the shelves, George Harrison is running on empty. Seven of the ten songs
here are breathy ballads (the exceptions being those two 1971 outtakes and a
bizarre finale that finds George promoting the member of the Bonzo Dog Doodah
Band nobody remembers, simply because he can), with all of them coming in
various shades of the same hue. This is a sad, desperate, lonely album with
half-an-ear on the blues, dominated by the same washes of keyboards and
synthesiser (the only variety being the player on the keyboard stool) that mean
that almost all of it passes by without making any sort of impact at all. Which
was more or less what George wanted.
There shouldn't have been a Harrison album in 1975.
He was tired, worn out from a two-month tour of America that was so disastrous
it put him over ever playing life again for the rest of his career: crowds were
restless during support Ravi Shankar's lengthy Indian ragas, fans felt annoyed
when a Hindu-loving Harrison heckled them from the stage about their rock and
roll lifestyles - often while clutching a hypocritical bottle of booze - and
where his throat gave out badly, leaving fans to forever nickname it his 'Dark
Hoarse' tour. While rescued to some extent by friend Billy Preston singing most
of the lines for him while George croaked and waved helplessly from the stage,
fans still felt cheated and critics sharpened their knives in a way that George
had never known before. After the highs of 'All Things Must Pass', a lot of
reviewers were willing to accept 'Material World' as a marking time album,
whilst mildly disliking the 'Dark Horse' album itself. The tour, however, gave
the press the ammunition all the Beatles haters had been saving and - apart
from a brief spell in the second half of the 1980s when George became the 'most
popular ex Beatle' again - dogged him for the rest of his life, to the point
where people were seriously writing articles after his death that labelled him
'the nice geezer with some famous friends who got lucky while knowing how to
play a bit of guitar', rather than recognising Harrison as the pioneer he was
at his best. However George, who had never had to go through anything like this
amount of negative appraisal before (while The Beatles had themselves suffered
it, he looked on both Magical Mystery Tour and Let It Be with disdain at the
time, largely blaming McCartney for both) was not at his best - and the
critical backlash only made him feel worse. In later years Harrison would just
retreat to his garden and ignore the music world - but in 1975 Apple were
disintegrating and George needed another album in a hurry to be released from
his contract and on to Warner Brothers with whom he had already been in talks
to start his own label Dark Horse Records (if you look closely at the original
vinyl you can see that the traditional 'Apple' logo has been half-eaten away,
George's dig at the fact there weren't many releases on Apple left after
Lennon's retirement and the release of 'Ringo' and 'Band On The Run' just
before this set; indeed the single from 'Extra Texture' - 'This Guitar Can't
Keep From Crying' - is the very last release until the label is resurrected
briefly for Beatles re-issues in the 1980s).
George spends much of 'Extra Texture' joking to us
that he'd rather not be here making an album and we'd rather not be listening
to him as well, joking at the absurd 'game' he has to play (the album's odd
looking orange sleeve with blue bits turns out to be a grinning picture of
George under the caption 'Ohnothimagen' - 'Oh not him Again!' or maybe 'Oh
Nothing Making' depending how quickly you read it - a spoof of what the papers
were actually saying. Anyone whose spent any time looking at pictures of George
will know that this cheesy showbiz portrait is about as un-Harrison like as the
'back flip' a dancer kindly performs for him in the music video for 'Got My
Mind Set On You'). Retreating to America, mainly to get away from rattling
around Friar park on his own, George found that only a few of his friends were
able to travel out there with him and the album packaging also includes what
must be unique amongst rock and roll albums: not just a credit of whose there,
but additionally who doesn't appear on the recordings (selections include Danny
Kortchmar - because he was busy with fellow AAA stars David Crosby and Graham
Nash incidentally - Derek Taylor, Eric Idle and Peter Sellers, all firmly
ensconced back in the Britain he was missing.
However it's someone else on this album George can't
thinking about: Patti. The anger and bitterness of his split with her and Eric
Clapton's claim as the new love of her life had already been covered on 'Dark
Horse'; by now a little bit of time has passed and George is feeling both
melancholy living alone in the great mansion they'd bought together and feeling
a little guilty for not practising what he'd been preaching all those years
before about how others should be living their lives. Patti is undoubtedly the
'You' that this nostalgic album keeps returning to in not just 'You' but 'A Bit
More Of You' 'Can't Keep Thinking About You' and 'Ooh Baby You Know That I Love
You' as well. It's unusual to hear George address a person like this, but it's
as if after cutting Patti out of his life for so long George is now addressing
songs directly to her. By his own
admission Harrison's devotion to Hindu philosophy had changed his personality
greatly and to some extent cut him off from the world as earthly pursuits in
this 'illusional' 'Material world' no longer seemed to matter; while Patti was
as spiritual as anybody in The Beatles' camp in the 1960s she struggled to
accept just how deeply George had grown into his faith, at the risk of shutting
her out. Notably 'Extra Texture' is the only George Harrison solo record to
have no mentions of religion or God anywhere in its lyrics, even subtlety,
perhaps as penance. George later claimed to have been too upset to enter the
now empty Friar Park after his long tour that he simply slept outside in the
garden - perhaps afraid and ashamed to face the memories (at least, that's what
these songs sound like). Harrison's longterm friend Klaus Voormann, who he'd
known since the Hamburg days - and who did make the trip but left the sessions
midway through in disgust, leaving George to play three bass parts on the
album- recalls that this was a very 'down' album to make, with the Los Angeles
session musicians partying every night and partaking of much drink and booze.
In short, it's the Harrison equivalent of Lennon's 'Lost Weekend', albeit a
year late and lasting several months shorter (George reportedly stopped once he
got back home again to an empty Friar Park). It may be, then, that after
veering too far to one extreme of his personality George was zooming straight
to the extreme of the other - and cutting religion out of his life altogether.
However that leaves the album with a problem: George has spent his life
preaching against this sort of behaviour and clearly doesn't want to condone it
in song - and yet he's too guilty/fed up of his usual spiritual songs too. He's
not particularly keen on writing about Patti either, although it's those songs
that seem to be pouring out of him. So what on earth can he write about?
'Extra Texture' is in many ways procrastination
central. There's an opening song that takes an entire 85 seconds to tell us
simply that 'I...love...you!' There's a reprise of that song five tracks later
where George doesn't sing a note. There's a comedy filler about another of
George's friends who didn't make the trip with him to the States, 'Legs' Larry
Smith, whose eccentric gentleman image must surely have reminded George of
everything he was missing at home in Britain. There's a padded out sequel to
'Gently Weeps' that's similar in every respect except having a message to
convey. No wonder, then, that so many fans give this record such short shrift:
all that time-delaying leaves George just six songs on which to make his mark
and al four of these tracks are pretty dire even by the standards of the lowest
ebbs on 'Dark Horse' - George knows in his heart of hearts that he'd got
nothing to say and yet still has to make a record that no one out there will
like anyway because its Beatle-bashing time! However the other six songs are if
not outright classics, then amongst the most under-rated in Harrison's oeuvre:
not immediately loveable by any means, not even particularly well written and
with the same overly soppy production values as the rest of the sleepy LP. But
in them somewhere you can hear what George was trying to do and he puts his
emotions out on the line quite convincingly.
At The End' is the one track on the record that 'feels' like a George Harrison
song, it repeats 'Run Of Mill's good advice that true fans only judge each
other when their characters have got too far out of control and promises to
stop viewing the world from the end of a magnifying glass (which is a little
like what I'm doing with this site - but that's OK because I'm using a
microscope). 'Ooh Baby' is one last great love song for Patti that isn't an old
song but sounds like it, recalling all sorts of past ballads from 'I Need You'
to 'Something' without ever quite settling on an actual melody, as if his
sub-conscious is re-playing memories in terms of songs. 'World Of Stone' is an
even sadder re-make of 'Material World' where this and the spiritual side have
collided, leaving the world not as 'good' and 'bad' but murky grey, cold and
impenetrable and sounds as if it was written in the States 'such an awfully
long way from home' (interestingly it's spelt 'OM', as in the Krishna-paved
path of rightfulness, in George's book of lyrics 'I Me Mine' although that's
not how he sings it here). 'Can't Stop Thinking About You' isn't actually
connected to 'You' and dates from 1975 not 1971 but sounds as if it might have
been - it fades up underneath the instrumental 'A Bit More Of You' as if it's
been playing underneath all the time and has George returning to his muse a
little older and a lot sadder, as if contrasting a 'before' and 'after' shot.
While not the greatest break-up song ever written and without much to say
except the title, its hard not to be knocked over by the real emotion at the
core of this sad heartfelt song, a final end to the trilogy begun with 'Deep
Blue' and 'So Sad'. 'Tired Of Midnight Blue' is perhaps the record's strongest
track, the closest to a decent uptempo track on the record although this is
still clearly a 'blues' and unusually for George written in the minor key, the
solar God from 'Here Comes The Sun' turning away from George and no longer
drying his tears (is this God or Patti or both?) Once again George 'wishes that
I'd stayed home - with you', balancing both the homesick and 'You' themes of
the record. Finally 'Grey Cloudy Lies' starts as if it's going to be a
triumphant Harrison song: another 'Run Of The Mill' 'Let It Roll' 'Isn't It A
Pity?' or 'All Things Must Pass' that starts off sad before gradually finding
reason and purpose in the curious ways of man and Gods and comes out the other
side smiling. But it doesn't - to do so would be a 'lie' - and throughout the
song Harrison strains at the song as if trying to right itself from its stupor
only to have his own frog-like keyboard part mouthing back at him, mocking him
all the time with its comedy 'jollity'. While the melody is just that bit
unforgettable and the performance just that shade too slow to work, this song
is lyrically by far the best on the album, George waking up from a bad dream to
find himself on a 'battleground', longing for the day he can escape 'the pistol
pointing at my brain' and the tears falling from his eyes, but wearily sighing
that 'I've got no chance'. George should have been strong enough to end the
album here, instead of tripping over 'Leg's, because it would have been the perfect
curtain-closer to Apple as the last album song by a Beatle on the label and
recalling Badfinger's own bittersweet lament 'Apple Of My Eye' from three years
before: the 'I Me Mine' of his solo catalogue, the narrator the lone voice of
reason in a world that's turned into a war, regretting his own part in the
Instead the album ends with a song that's got to be
one of the strangest on any AAA record. We'll return to this song later, as we
always do, but seeing as there's so miuch history wrapped up in that one song
we'll unravel it now. Legs Larry Smith is the quiet gentlemen not doing much in
the 'Deathcab For Cutie' sequence in 'Magical Mystery Tour' where the Bonzos
are in a strip club, Vivian Stanshall is going so over the top he's out the other
side and the song's actual writer Neil Innes is hiding way at the back, trying
not to laugh. A frequent house guest of The Harrisons over the course of the
1970s, George leaned on him more and more after Patti left to the point where
his long-term friends began referring to Smith as 'the Friar Park court
jester'. George was badly in need of some laughs and came to rely on his friend
heavily. This song is a pay-back to Smith, a jokey way of making sure he got
the same amount of press attention as his better known colleagues in the Bonzos
and Monty Python's Flying Circus and is filled with impenetrable in-jokes that
Harrison admits in his 'I Me Mine' book of lyrics that 'only he and I would
get'. It's another case of George's certainty across this album that the whole
world has turned against him and left him - that there's no audience listening
to him or buying his records anyway so he may as well write for himself now
(fittingly, really, 'Extra Texture' became the lowest charting 'normal' solo
Beatle album of all up to this point in the UK, with less people than ever before
taking notice of it). That's why we get six minutes of George speaking apparent
gibberish in a straight voice, while Larry in turn introduces himself several
times and launches into his peculiar stage patter (if you happen to know the
1968 Beatles Christmas Fanclub Record its basically the bit where a straight
faced George promises the fans 'a treat' and introduced Tiny Tim 'all the way
from Stokely-Carmichael On Sea', although not even that funny).
Just to make
the joke even more 'what the?' George overdubs Larry lots of times at once, so
that we can't make out what he's saying over the course of this lengthy six
minute joke and then making this the first of George's 'vocal' albums not to
contain a lyric sheet so fans can't read what the song says either just to ram the point home. This isn't for the
world to laugh at - this is for George to laugh at, because the rest of the
world's a nasty place. It may also reflect George's response to effectively
getting the last word on Apple before the label is wrapped up for good: the
last words ever uttered on an Apple album are the nonsensical 'I seem to have
got a table stuck on your foot - I'm so sorry!' (a reference to the business
meetings or simply an act of deliberate confusion for the history books?!)
Amazingly things do get better and those grey cloudy
lies lifted almost the minute that this album was released. In the course of
1976 George will meet the second love of his life Olivia, form his own
long-awaited record label Dark Horse with help from Warner Brothers (what on
Earth did they make of 'His Name Is Legs'?!) and both his house and his head
will be full again, the events of Patti and Apple receding into the distance
like a bad dream. It will take George's confidence a bit longer to recover from
the shock, with the next record (33 and 1/3rd') far more upbeat and pleasant to
listen to but actually even emptier than this one (it will take critics until
'Cloud Nine' to go all ga-ga for George again on a decidedly lesser record,
which just goes to show what strange things
synthesisers did to otherwise sensible people in 1987). As for 'Extra
Texture' I rather like it. I certainly don't love it - the opening and ending
songs and 'This Guitar' are atrocious while even the better songs come with
tempos that are way too slow and insipid production that makes even the best
songs here seem the same. (that was probably the intention; in case you were
wondering the title is another 'in joke', George commenting to someone in the
studio that the record needed a little....pausing while he thought of the word
'extra' only for someone else in the room to add 'texture?' at the very same
time. The result was a joke that tickled George for days). However 'the
artistic nadir' of George's career as this record is so often labelled? A
record contract fulfiller and nothing more? The sound of a man with absolutely
nothing to say and no interest in saying it? No, not entirely: there's a real
message in the heart of this album, an extended reflection about guilt,
loneliness and despair that's remarkably brave, even if the sloppy way its
delivered here (with some really bad papering over the cracks) has successfully
fooled us fans for years at looking the other way. This is actually, in part,
one of George's better albums - it's just all realised deliberately poorly, a
record that should be the one of the loneliest saddest confessionals in the
musical world recorded in the middle of a party nobody in the room seems to be
enjoying. Like the unusual inventive album cover, it tries to be happy and
bright orange but when you open it up its just 'blue'.
A final word - because I forgot to add it earlier
and can't find a way of fitting it in without squishing another point up now -
about the sound of this record. Having spent the better part of two months side
by side with Billy Preston, George takes a leaf out of his book and delivers an
album that merges his usual style with soul, or slow funk. Several of the day's
leading musicians are hired, including many of the players who performed on
Lennon's 'lost weekend' album 'Walls and Bridges' funnily enough (including the
ever-wonderful Jesse Ed Davis, Nicky Hopkins making his 111th odd appearance on
this website and Andy Newmark; is this a similar cry for help to Lennon's
then?) There are copious strings and horns - extra textures if you will - that
George doesn't normally have. What's more there's barely any guitar: even 'This
Guitar Can't Keep From Crying' doesn't feature one and the predominant sound is
keyboards, with George tapping into the use of his friends from his past like
Gary Wright (of Splinter), Leon Russell (as per the Bangla Desh concert) and Nicky
Hopkins again. Funnily enough, though, Billy Preston isn't one of the players
who made the trip to LA - he does appear on the album but it's on 'His Name Is
Legs', the one song that couldn't sound less 'English' if it came in a teapot!
The end result is that this record begins to sound more like a Stevie Wonder
record than a George Harrison one and the guitarist often sounds adrift and
lost on his own album; which is kind of the point of the record really.
'You' is the best known song from the album and a
minor hit single, although that probably says more for the loyalty of George's
fans than any merits as a song. A cute B side that doesn't say much turned into
a production powerhouse that pretends it's saying lots, it speaks volumes that
George's first draft of the song was turned down by Ronnie Spector in 1971,
incurring not just the displeasure of an Ex-Beatle but the wrath of her
then-husband Phil who was still very much a friend of Harrisons at the time.
Alas for George he wrote the backing track for Ronnie to sing, in a much higher
register than he's comfortable with and it shows, although in a way the vocal
is the best thing about the track: at least its giving us something a little
different and close to heartfelt even if George at times sounds like one of the
Mike Samme Singers from the end of 'I Am The Walrus'. It's not that this song
is bad as such, simply that it has less to say than any the songs on 'All
Things Must Pass' (even the 'Apple Jam' ones). Just take that opening verse in
its entirety: 'I, I love, and I love love, and I love you, oh yeah you'. True
things do pick up for a middle eight that tells us 'ooh when I'm holding you
yeah what a feeling, so good to be true that I'm feeling I'm dreaming', but
even this passage comes with the slight feeling that this song has been
sub-consciously nicked from some Abba ditty or another (it also recalls The
Beatles' BBC performance of 'The Honeymoon Song' where the fab four poked fun
at the banal rhymes 'feeling' and 'ceiling'). None of this would matter if the
melody was up to scratch, but while the riff is nice and naggingly, it's all
played at such a slow speed and with such a feeling of indifference that it
doesn't really make its mark. There's even a saxophone solo which regular
readers will know always fills me with apoplexy - not necessarily because of
the tone of the sax itself but because 'those' sort of empty squeaking solos
always seem to turn up in 'those' sort of songs best described as walking-tempo
plods. The 1971 original heard on bootleg is better if only for skipping the
sax parts altogether and possessing a little of the rough edges still which
this 1975 update shamelessly shaves off. The trouble with 'You' is that, while
in the context of the album it's clearly a song about Patti, it could be a song
about absolutely anybody with nothing individual or memorable about it at all. Alarmingly
some critics compared it favourably to 'What Is Life', with which the song possesses
the same tempo-strut and a similar cry for help to one individual but the
differences between the two songs are night and day in terms of depth.
'The Answer's At The End' is the album's second
longest song and a slow, smoky ballad in a similar vein to early Harrison LPs. It's
a real shame that the lyrics to this album aren't printed anywhere in the
original packaging because they're often rather good across this album and here
in particular. Returning to the holier-than-thou wisdom of 'All Things Must
Pass' (the song even reprises the refrain 'isn't it a pity how?...' and was,
like 'Let It Roll' and 'Ding Dong Ding Dong', taken from one of architect
Frankie Crisp's carvings at Friar Park - tbis one is from a garden wall) but
this time with a little more humility, this is a sadder George realising that
it is human to err and vowing not to comment on the faults of friends when he's
so lacking himself. Promising not to 'scan a friend with a microscopic glass'
Harrison wearily turns to the listener with the advice that really what he's
learnt in life is that he knows less than he thought he did - that 'life is one
long enigma my friend'. Returning to 'Run Of The Mill' George urges all of us
to 'not be so hard the ones you love' before perhaps thinking of Patti and
realising that 'it's the ones you love that you think so little of' (in fact
George is so taken with this sudden insight that he repeats it five times
throughout the song - more times even than 'I, I love, love you' is repeated in
the opening song. Like 'The Art Of Dying' et sequence, however, all these traps
of life are only here to confuse us from our real 'mission' - which can only be
discovered when we die (though interesting this LP, which George knew had to be
faintly commercial to sell, doesn't use the word 'death' anywhere). Alas the
melody isn't up to the words and is so slow that even the added kick of a
sudden rush of energy downwards from Willie Weeks' bass part and the strings
can't make this track exciting. While George's vocal is now back in its proper
register, it still doesn't sound right and comes out of a sort of soul rasp, as
if George is offering his impression of colleague Billy Preston instead (was
this song perhaps written for him originally?) Misguided and ill-performed as
the recording is though (everything about this production is a cluttered mess)
'The Answer's At The End' is still an excellent and under-rated song, riddled
with guilt and self-loathing which must have been very hard for George to sing.
'This Guitar Can't Keep From Crying' was allegedly
written in direct response to critics who reviewed the 'Dark Horse' album and
tour and asked basically 'why bother? Just count your millions!') George's
response through gritted teeth is that he's 'happier than he's ever been'
(debatable), that laidback George is really 'highly strung' (up to a point but have
you seen the other Beatles?!) and that fighting him is not going to bring out
his better side ('Can't understand or deal with hate, responds much better to
love'). George does provide one invention though: speaking about himself in the
second person as if he's the 'instrument', which is both clever and unique with
George inevitably a guitar (something he remarks on in the 'Dark Horse Years'
DVD where he 'realised' that Eric Clapton could sound like Eric Clapton
whatever instrument he played that the
performer is in essence the music). However George does himself few favours
with the actual song, which plods along slowly without any real passion in
there and at times is downright ugly, the sourness of a particularly loud
Willie Weeks bass track standing in opposition to the rest of the track
throughout, as if merrily going about his own path oblivious to everyone around
him. There is a little guitar on this track, but none of it is up loud and not
much of it is very good, being swamped out by all the strings - perhaps that's
the point, that George's creativity keeps being swamped out by the string-created
'fog' that seems to hang over not just this track but the whole album. As a
song in its own right it would be a little bland and unmemorable, again
repeating itself too many times for comfort (another common problem with this
record). As a sequel to 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' it's a travesty: a song
free of passion, excitement, energy or ideas. Listening to these tracks side by
side you'd be hard pressed to guess which was written deliberately and which
came about by 'accident' (with words plucked from a dictionary at random). Weirdly
George picked this song in 1992 for a collaborative 'remix/re-recording' with
Dave Stewart, although given the momentous changes in George's life by then the
arrangement is actually remarkably similar.
'Ooh Baby (You Know That I Love You)' suggests that
George had been doing a lot of listening to Smokey Robinson on his time off -
even more than the next LP's 'Pure Smokey' this song finds George finding his
inner soul crooner, with better effect that on 'Answer'. A long goodbye to
Patti, this time it's the lyrics that have little to say and the melody that
just about says it all: a clever, sleepy hot-footed dance from one note to the
next that manages to combine soul's usual strut with the sense that the
narrator is unsettled and looking for something. 'I will be where you want me,
I will try to keep you happy, if only you'll say you're my baby!' George
croons, as if he believes that Patti is still his and all this mess with Eric
Clapton is just a bad dream he had. Featuring the same achingly haunting
romantic glimmer as 'Something' with the single-note focus of 'My Sweet Lord'
George almost manages to fool himself and us that the pair are still madly in
love. However there's something not quite 'right' about this performance, which
starts off on an unexpected note in the chord which hangs mid-air for most of
the song, waiting for a resolution that never comes (this track instead fades
unexpectedly just as George has gone back to the chorus again). It's a
question, this song, asking 'will you come back to me?' pretending it's an
'answer' - that she already has and everything is as it was before. Another
reading of this song is that, like many a Harrison 'love' song its actually addresses
to 'God' and that the fact that this song seems so 'wrong' is another comment
on how out of sync with his religious feelings a boozy George was feeling.
Another song that's so much better than reputation suggests.
We've spoken a few times on this site about the
similarities between George Harrison and Cat Stevens albums - both men write
spiritual, quasi-religious (if different religions) songs with a sort of earthy
growl in them somewhere. 'World Of
Stone' especially is pure Cat Stevens circa the 'Foreigner' period, stuffed
full of three concurrent keyboard parts (piano, moog and organ) and talking
about life in terms of a journey searching for a truth that's further down the
road. George is doing his soul impression again as he sighs over being 'such a
long way to go' and an uncaring world made of 'stone' that even his dedication
and zealousy cannot overcome. Remembering just a few short years back when the
sixties dream seemed to be about to become a reality George sighs that 'the
wiser you can be the harder it may be to see a world full of stone'. Alas
another promising lyric is undone by the fact that the verses and choruses are
repeated too many times for comfort, that the melody is the wrong side of
forgettable, that the performance is indifferent (just imagine how great that
sudden swell of chords up to the end would have been if, say, The Who were
playing it) and once again George is pretending to be someone he isn't. Despite
the obvious promise in this song, it too is made of 'stone' - a blunt object
randomly lashing out that's a long way from the spiritual lyrical precision of
'All Things Must Pass'.
'A Little Bit More Of You' is an even more pointless
reprise of 'You' which comes without the words and simply features another loop
of that irritating saxophone solo. The beginning and end fade takes so long
that the song barely stays stable for fifteen of its 45 or so seconds, giving
the not altogether unlikely feeling of two ships passing in the night and not
quite connecting. Had the album started this way, as a tease before the full
song appeared at the start of side two, it might have made more sense but this
way round fans have already heard the 'good bits' already. If nothing else
though it hints at how much of an 'obsession' George had about the past in this
period and the person he's singing to in these 'You' songs, hence also next
'Can't Stop Thinking About You' is the most
interesting of the four 'You' songs. The track is actually one first recorded
for 'Dark Horse' and resurrected, having been written - according to 'I Me
Mine' - over the course of Christmas 1973. The fact that it features the same
besotted nature as the other 'You' songs would suggest that this is another
song about Patti, but another fascinating alternative is that the time of
writing coincides perfectly with George's supposed affair with Maureen Starkey
(with typical wry Beatle humour, the only time George ever spoke about sleeping
with one of his best friend's wives he dismissed it as 'incest'). Interestingly
this is the one Harrison love song that's clearly about a person rather than
God and about the narrator coming to rely on their physical presence. Mournful
in the extreme, this slow sad ballad wanders a little too close to the superior
'So Sad' (perhaps the reason it was giving its marching orders from the 'Dark
Horse' album where that track belongs) but is another under-rated track and
perhaps George's best attempt at finding a 'soul groove'. Like much of the album the track is woefully
repetitive, but here it fits: the narrator is obsessed, so inevitably he sings
the chorus over and over, George finding new ways to sing it from despair to
longing to hope. Indeed there's only really six lines to this whole song - most
of them repeated - but together with the sleepy, hazy melody and unfocussed
production the result is close to being hypnotic. This is another song Billy
Preston would have done really well - and another track where George's most
faithful of friends is notable by his absence.
By far the best song on the album, though, is 'Tired
Of Midnight Blue'. By now George's melancholia is getting even to him and
there's a certain get-on-with-it buzz about the performance, which isn't
exactly 'upbeat' but does have more life in it than the other songs on the
album. Recounting the tale of his grief in the terms of a comedy, George
pitches events ridiculously over-the-top; perhaps playing with 'Here Comes The
Sun' he imagines the solar rays surrounding his ex as she abandons him and the
sun going in forever when she leaves. Feeling 'chilled to the bone', George
wishes that he'd 'stayed home - with you', the song drawing up to a sudden
standstill on that realisation, with that one word 'you' again forming
something of a mantra across this record (again, though, note how cleverly
ambiguous the song is - this could be another song about religion the way it's
written here). Even this song palls after a while, its endless cycle of
realisation and angsty debate seemingly without end and again five repeats of a
pretty simple chorus is at least two too many. But for once both lyric and
melody are pretty decent and make for a fascinating contrast: the lyrics are
hopelessly sorry for itself and self-indulgent, but the music is undoing its
sleeves and preparing to get on with it. Without even probably consciously
thinking about it, this is George saying to himself 'I can't go on like
this...' and it's here that the seeds of his future, happier albums are sown,
however sorrowful the lyrics still are. In the context of the album 'Midnight
Blue' is the one song that sounds as if it knows where its going and is
deliberately crafted to sound good instead of blindly stumbling upon its
brilliance. Thankfully that feeling is retained in easily the best performance
on the album (the only decent performance in fact?) with a lively George
pitching his performance nicely halfway between authentically sad and grimly
upbeat. Harrison, in a rare interview to promote the album, told Paul
Gambaccini it was about 'one of those rare nights when I decided to go out -
and then wished I hadn't, although your take on those words is as good as mine.
'Grey Cloudy Lies' is another winner. George
portrays himself as Rip Van Winkle, waking up from a glorious dream (his
'religious' years of 1970-1973 perhaps?) to find that the rest of the world has
gone mad in his absence and against his warnings. At times George sounds like a
schoolteacher, as he first sighs over the mess the world is in before ticking
off the 'grey cloudy lies' that are causing everyone to 'go insane' (presumably
the effects of the 'Material World' as per his 1973 album). Note that yet again
George talks about his current state of affairs in terms of the weather: the
sun has long gone, little darlin', and we're on our own without even 'cloudy
skies' but 'cloudy lies', an illusion of his own making that he can't dispel
with logic as he still believes it in his own heart. It could be that Friar
Park looks ordinary without Patti, that the cold winter he's spending there
alone seems all the colder without anybody around - or it could be that George
is talking in spiritual terms again, feeling abandoned by a God that he's put
so much faith in and still won't 'save' him (well not yet - luckily Olivia is
round the corner). Another slow and befuddled performance can't get in the way
of a second truly brilliant song, one that melodically suits the lyric again by
pausing for breath every few bars as if looking around, warily, for the next battle
the narrator is likely to be caught in unwillingly. The best production touch
though is the hilarious croaking frog who parrots everything George says as if
he's laughing at him. If this was one of the other Beatles I'd consider this
merely a co-incidence, but George has done this sort of thing before (see the
fake embarrassed laughter shamefully places after 'Within You Without You',
apparently at his own request) and its perfectly fitting for a song about
'illusion' and being 'mistaken' (like 'The Answer's At The End', this track
sounds like George suddenly waking up to how human and error-riddled his life
has been, as messed up as any of the people he was writing about during 'All
Things Must Pass'). George wants to tell us about the errors of all our ways -
but he's self-deprecating enough to reflect that he's made so many mistakes
before he probably has no right to tell us this either. A full-on keyboard onslaught
by George himself sounds like Harrison is fighting to be heard, despite the
fact that his vocal is up nice and loud in this mix in contrast to most others
on the album, with another of the record's better band performances. That same
interview with Paul Gambaccini gave a more 'straightforward' account of this
song, recalling it as 'one of those 4 o'clock in the morning songs'. That's
exactly what it sounds like, the sound of a man whose just realised how messed
up his life is and willing the night to pass so that he can get on with the
business of putting things right again. Another very under-rated clever song.
Good luck working out what on earth is going on with
'His Name Is Legs (Ladies and Gentlemen)' though. On paper this song should
make perfect sense: the duality of George's nature kicking in and making him
end his saddest and bleakest album with a silly comedy novelty featuring one of
his best and most supportive friends. Only 'Legs' doesn't sound particularly
funny. Even given that the Bonzos' humour was the sort of thing you tended to
intellectually laugh at rather than belly-chuckle over, it doesn't 'feel' like
a silly song. George's melody is urgent, insistent and restless, hopping about
from one foot to another and the moment when Larry Smith finally comes in some
two-thirds of the way into the song is treated as if some big revelation is
going to be made, complete with 'jazz hands' piano chords and what will in
future years become known as 'Shanghai Surprise' 1930s horns. The fact that we
weren't provided with any lyrics meant many fans were left scratching their
heads over what they were supposed to think - and even now there's some debate
about just how funny 'Legs' is meant to be. The lyrics is littered with Legs'
Lennonish Goonidh sayings throughout: 'Dinky Doo' was a favourite catchphrase
for 'yes', which is why 'everything he says is dinky doo' and his most famous
saying is about 'oversitting' when you don't 'understand' something, while
'come Sikh come Tsar' is the one genuinely funny line in the song, a Smith-ism
pun on the French phrase 'comme ci comme ca'. Other lines are apparently
George's 'you can't slide on a rule' recalling the 'sliderule' so beloved of
English classrooms and 'he should sing in a band, oh yeah' a nod of the head to
a good friend. However this song is still not funny: the lines are hard to hear
and while George may sing with the aggressiveness of some comedians (especially
Liverpudlian comedians) he doesn't sing with the 'lightness' of his other
comedy songs ('Miss O Dell' for instance, in which he gets the giggles, or
fellow Bonzo Eric Idle's collaboration 'The Pirate Song', which sounds
naggingly similar to 'My Sweet Lord'...) The ending, with multiple Legses
delivering stage patter, is also curiously muddleheaded, as if George was
making a point - but what is it? (That nobody is listening - to either of them?
That it's not the lines that are funny but the man? That George needs comedy in
his unfunny life - and doesn't care what the line are or even whether it's
funny because its meant as escapism?) The lines are hard to decipher but seem
to include Legs doing an impersonation of a ringing phone, telling us that he
'only came here to enjoy the central heating', getting the audience to promise
there'll be 'no screaming' when the lights hit the stage, adding an almost accusatory
'we're having fun aren't we?' and apologising for leaving random pieces of
furniture on random limbs. The Rutles was funnier, but then this isn't really a
song about laughter despite being written by two genuinely funny writers.
Overall, then, 'Extra Texture' is a bit of a mess.
Comedy songs that aren't funny, pop songs that are almost offensively empty and
sequels that share little of what made the originals so great. There's a bit
too much texture going on for my tastes with one massive overdub one top of
another on a series of confused ballads that seem to get slower and slower
across the record till finally writing themselves towards the end of side two. Some
of these songs really are the nadir of George's canon - 'You' and 'A Bit More
Of You' especially. And yet, the best of this album ('The Answer's At The End'
'Tired Of Midnight Of Blue' and 'Grey Cloudy Lies') is genuinely inventive,
clever and moving, songs that could never have been written by anybody else
except George Harrison, no matter how dented his confidence might suddenly be. Yes
'Extra Texture' is a heavy-going album, a sad record with none of the [peace of
mind that usually comes from embracing George's work. But already in there
somewhere, rattling around, is the answer to all of George's problems and
despite all the worries and doubts over whether any of this album is of any
value to anyone George comes up trumps again - the answer is always there in
the end, it was just better buried than on his other LPs. Certainly no classic,
but an under-rated album all the same.
A NOW COMPLETE LIST OF GEORGE HARRISON ARTICLES TO READ AT
ALAN’S ALBUM ARCHIVES:
TV Appearances 1971-2001 http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/08/george-harrison-surviving-tv.html Essay: Why The Quiet Beatle Always Had So Much To Say https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2018/02/george-harrison-essay-why-quiet-one.html
Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Songs https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2018/03/george-harrison-five-landmark-concerts.html
Available in ebook format 'Change Partners - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young' by clicking here!
Crosby Stills and Nash "Allies"
(Atlantic, June 1983)
War Games/Raise A Voice/Turn Your Back On Love/Barrel Of Pain/Shadow Captain//Dark Star/Blackbird/He Played Real Good For Free/Wasted On The Way/For What It's Worth
"Do we run? Do we stop? Do we lie down? I think not!"
CSN were desperately needed in the 1980s. The 1960s had been bad but in the 1980s there were so many extra evils to fight: nuclear arms, a world recession, The Falklands War, The Gulf War...sometimes it seemed as if the hippie days had all been a dream. 'Allies' tries hard to answer such questions, with a typically CSN polemic about 'raising a voice against the madness', another new song about the cold war nuclear arms race, a recent Nash song about nuclear waste and a particularly apt re-visitation of 'For What It's Worth' proving how little the world has learnt in a quarter of a century. This is exactly what CSN always did best: standing up to the people in power and pointing out how mad the world is. Before you go rushing out to buy this record, however, 'Allies' is also the biggest proof yet that the trio can't keep themselves intact, never mind the world. This concert - only the second to feature more than two of CSNY together - was taped at Los Angeles' 'The Forum' for posterity: David Crosby was fading fast and while nobody actually came out sand said it, the mood within the audience and the band was that this would be the last time the trio would play together because of jail sentence or death (or both). As it happens, Crosby's prison sentence will save his life - it will complicate it certainly and cause him a year of hell on earth but he will come out of the other side again - and CSN will perform concerts far more interesting an exciting than this one. In many ways 'Allies' is now redundant, replaced by the complete 'Live at the Forum' two-disc set some 25 years later and isn't a record CSN fans turn to for inspiration often: while you could state a case at a ragged and raw CSN being at their most powerful, their vocals are born for studio perfection, not live performance and compared to previous concert record 'Four Way Street' the song selections are more obvious and the performances less lively (Crosby's failing health doesn't help of course - although he actually seems more together on the DVD than I expected, with only the nervous looks on the faces of Stills and Nash and a bit of eye-shutting on 'Shadow Captain' giving his poor state away - but Stills and Nash aren't their usual crowd-raising selves here either).
It would be tempting to throw this record away and never speak of it again. However, there are several plus points in this record's favour. The compilers sensibly decided to make this record as different to 'Four Way Street' as they can and even today it's the only place (as well as the longer 'Forum') to hear official live recordings of such live standards as 'Wasted On The Way' and 'Dark Star'. There's also an emphasis on CSN songs either hard to find or never released on record at the time of asking: old warhorses like 'Blackbird' (only available on the second Woodstock set, with the studio take not out till 1991) and Crosby's beloved Joni Mitchell song 'He Played Real Good For Free' (only available on the Byrds' reunion album - where they don't play real good for a lot of money). The new songs are also a good pick: 'Turn Your Back On Love' can't match the 'Daylight Again' version but it's a plucky choice, dealing with Crosby's problems and spelling out from the start (this was the opening song on the concert as a whole, if not the record) that all was not well in the CSN universe; 'Wasted On The Way' explains to newcomers why the band are here and why there are so many gaps in their discographies while Nash's 1979 solo piece 'Barrel Of Pain' is a little OTT in this version but painfully honest and deeply heartfelt. The two exclusive new studio songs added at the start of the record - unavailable on CD for years until the recent Stills and Nash box sets - are nice extras to the faithful too, with 'War Games' a raucous Stills rocker loosely based on the film of the name and the nuclear war arms of two sides poised to fight in a battle neither can win and 'Raise A Voice' a rare Stills-Nash collaboration that merges Graham's prettiness with Stephen's restlessness. Neither are classic CSN, not up to even the weakest songs on the recent 'Daylight Again' - and a failing Crosby is badly missed at the sessions - but both are at least passable and deserve to be more widely known.
The trouble is, the compilers have to cover Crosby somehow and reach into the vaults for an unreleased gig from 1977 (Houston Texas on October 22nd 1977 to be exact - the same show used in part of the 'Long Time Comin' documentary) to represent him by way of 'For Free' and an intense 'Shadow Captain'. Both of these are the best things on the album, reminders of when even a coasting CSN could create magic on any given note and with the full sailing harmonies that the 1982 vintage duo (with cameos from Crosby and some extra vocal work from keyboardist Mike Finnigan) can't match. Atlantic really shot themselves in the foot here because without those two songs you can just about fool yourself that CSN sound as good as ever - but it only takes a few bars of 'Shadow Captain' to realise how much the bar has been lowered. Frustratingly that gig (which presumably exists in full) still hasn't been released (is it the same one featured on the 'Long Time Comin' documentary? If so we still only have another four songs from it). To be honest that show seems like a better bet for release, especially now that Crosby is safe and well and the 1982 Forum gig now seems like just a bad dream for everyone involved. Fans who weren't at the gigs or had access to internet grumblings, of course, didn't know that these two songs came from an earlier gig - but they tended to be the two songs critics of the time pointed at, if only to say 'gee, Crosby isn't as bad as everyone says!' Personally the solution seems obvious: while Crosby struggled singing back-up some of his own performances were mesmerising: 'Delta', for instance (thankfully included on the 'Forum' set) is miraculous, Crosby using every last ounce of his energy to perform 'without a net' - the only time in the whole gig he doesn't have Finnigan filling in for him, while a ragged 'Long Time Gone' isn't far behind. If only someone had been braver and shown the true state of his vocals - had this been the end, as the band and Atlantic feared, then this performance of 'Delta' would have been the best tribute Crosby could have had.
Overall, then, 'Allies' is not an essential purchase. Even the longer, better version of it - 'Live At The Forum' - isn't an essential purchase. But if you're a CSN historian rather than a casual collector or you're writing an essay about how the music world responded to the nuclear threat of arms in the mid-1980s (don't look at me like that - somebody might be!) then 'Allies' - with even a title linked to the troubles of the times (a good job they didn't call it 'Comrades' or they'd have been thrown out of America given the amount of hoo-hah Regan was kicking up at the time!) - might be a very interesting purchase. To everyone else, though, it's going to seem like a pale imitation of 'Four Way Street', only with the worst 80s excesses rather than 70s ones making it even less palatable.
Crosby, Stills and Nash "Live In L.A."
(101 Distribution, Recorded November 1982 Released October 2007)
CD One: Turn Your Back On Love/Chicago/Just A Song Before I Go/Wooden Ships/Dark Star/Barrel Of Pain/To The Last Whale (Critical Mass/Wind On The Water)/You Don't Have To Cry/Blackbird/Wasted On The Way/Delta
CD Two: Treetop Flyer/Magical Child/Suite: Judy Blue Eyes/Cathedral/Southern Cross/Long Time Gone/For What It's Worth/Love The One You're With/Teach Your Children/Daylight Again
"There were these three buddies see who hardly knew how to speak to one another. Then they met, made friends, was good!"
Basically the complete version of the L.A. Forum concert cut into a quarter for 'Allies', this is a welcome archival release that too often gets overlooked. The show was taped for American TV (it was made available years earlier on DVD under the name 'Daylight Again'), partly to promote the 'Daylight Again' LP (selections from which sound especially good live) but mainly because it was feared it would be the last time CSN were altogether. Crosby is visibly poorly, sweating buckets and with a wild eyed stare while Nash often glances nervously his way during the set (especially during 'Wooden Ships' where Crosby is too busy grinning to join in). However his vocal aren't as far gone as often supposed: he still sounds magnificent, rallying for a remarkable version of 'Delta' (the highlight of the set, sung 'without a net' as Nash quips), while Stills and Nash are as accomplished and professional as ever. What's nice about this setlist is how many unusual songs have been gathered together alongside the hits: 'Turn Your Back On Love' is a thrilling opening, catching the crowd slightly off guard (Opening line 'Is this a prison?' seeming like a wry comment on the fact that CSN have to tour when in such a bad state). A full band version of 'Chicago' with some fiery guitar snarls from Stills is far more 'bad-ass' than Nash pounding a piano alone. 'Barrel Of Pain' is a welcome repeat from the 'No Nukes' concert, with keyboardist MIke Finnigan making a rather better job of his 'soulful solo' this time around. 'To The Last Whale' sees Crosby and Nash chickening out of replicating 'Critical Mass' but does feature some lovely video footage of whales at play for the first time. A crowd-pleasing 'You Don't Have To Cry' gives the crowd the thrill of what CSN must have sounded like at that party now 14 years earlier. 'Wasted On The Way' comes complete with a delightful hillbilly introduction from Stills (as heard on 'Allies'). Stills solo 'Treetop Flyer' won't make it onto LP until as late as 1991 and is a nice parody of war movies with jobless Vietnam Veterans turning to smuggling to make ends meet. Nash's solo song 'Magical Child' (from 'Earth and Sky' in 1979) is a lovely performance, much more so than on the record. The first 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes' since 1970 is a little chaotic but met with heartfelt cheers that just about get the band through it. Even 'Long Time Gone' - the final of just three Crosby songs allowed in the set - is extraordinary - dark, foreboding and with Crosby using every last ounce of his strength to get to the end. All in all what could have been a mere career marker or a ghoulish goodbye becomes somewhat more than that, turning into if not quite the best CSN gig then still a better one that circumstances suggested, proving how much the trio still had left in them on good nights. Shockingly 'Allies' will ignore almost all these highpoints for a more selective 'greatest hits' set in 1983, but this is how the concert should have been heard: warts, rarities and inter-song chat and all left in. Our advice, though, is still to buy the DVD if you can - for some reason most shops are selling it cheaper than this two-CD set.
"Crosby, Stills and Nash" (Box Set)
(Atlantic, October 1991)
CD One: Suite: Judy Blue Eyes (Alternate Take)/Helplessly Hoping (Alternate Take)/You Don't Have To Cry (Alternate Version)/Wooden Ships/Guinevere (Demo)/Marrakesh Express/Long Time Gone/Blackbird/Lady Of The Island/Song With No Words (Tree With No Leaves) (Alternate Version)/Almost Cut My Hair (Unedited)/Teach Your Children/Horses Through A Rainstorm aka Man With No Expressions/Déjà Vu/Helpless/4+20/Laughing/Carry On-Questions
CD Two: Woodstock/Ohio/Love The One You're With/Our House/Old Times Good Times/The Lee Shore (Studio Take)/Music Is Love/I'd Swear There Was Somebody Here/Man In The Mirror (Live)/Black Queen (Live)/Military Madness/Urge For Going/I Used To Be A King/Simple Man/Southbound Train/Change Partners/My Love Is A Gentle Thing (1975 Version)/Word Game/Johnny's Garden/So Begins The Task/Turn Back The Pages
CD Three: See The Changes (1974 CSNY Version)/It Doesn't Matter/Immigration Man/Chicago-We Can Change The World/Homeward Through The Haze (1974 CSNY Version)/Where Will I Be?/Page 43/Carry Me/Cowboy Of Dreams/Bittersweet/To The Last Whale (Critical Mass/Wind On The Water)/Prison Song/Another Sleep Song/Taken At All (1976 CSNY Version)/In My Dreams/Just A Song Before I Go/Shadow Captain/Dark Star (Live 'Allies' Version)/Cathedral
CD Four: Wasted On The Way/Barrel Of Pain/Southern Cross/Daylight Again/Thoroughfare Gap/Wild Tales (Nash Live 1979)/Cold Rain/Got It Made (Stills/Nash Live 1989)/Tracks In The Dust/As I Come Of Age (Re-Recording 1981)/50-50/Drive My Car (Crosby 1978 Outtake)/Delta/Soldiers Of Peace (Alternate Take)/Yours and Mine/Haven't We Lost Enough?/After The Dolphin/Find The Cost Of Freedom
"With their love and their carin' they put their lives into beauty sharin', and their children are their flowers, there to give us peace in quiet hours"
By 1991 CSN were in danger of being forgotten. They needed something that would blow the opposition out the water and remind everyone how great they were. They needed this box set. Way back in the dim and distant past of issue six of our website newsletter we nominated this set as the greatest of all AAA box sets. A masterpiece in how to do this sort of thing right, it has something for everyone: the new collector gets almost all of the truly essential CSN recordings (yes, I know, they're almost all essential - up to 1982 at least - but by the time this set has worked it's magic you want to own the whole lot anyway!), the old timer gets a most wonderful collection of unreleased songs, alternate takes and longer edits (ignoring the alternate mixes and live tracks for the moment there's an impressive 22 substantially different recordings here - enough for a full CD) and the casual collector gets the bonus of getting the highlights of all those rare and obscure solo albums that are so hard to get. What's more compilers Joel Bernstein and Graham Nash have been scrupulously fair, giving all three members roughly equal space on released recordings and taking a pretty equal dip across their three solo canons, showing off as many sides of the trio as they can (what fascinated me about the reviews for this set was that critics tended to say 'wow I never knew they'd recorded a song like e.g. 'Black Queen' 'Cathedral' 'I'd Swear There Was Somebody Here' '50-50' etc' - one clueless reviewer even said 'Ohio' - and it was a different song each time, a testament to how eclectic and brave a career the trio have had). Add in some superb packaging (a Pete Frame family tree to help make sense of all those reunion albums, musician credits on every track, some truly sumptuous photographs and band comments about each and every song) and you have one hell of a package, a reminder of just how fearless, joyous and wonderful CSN at their peak were. Best of all, the whole set is superb, going down from 10/10 to 9/10 for merely the second half of disc four thanks to using just the cream of the crop - and there aren't many box sets out there you can say that about (clearly the few reviewers who claimed you only needed to hear the first disc never got round to actually playing the other three - if anything discs two and three are the highlights of the entire set, with the very best of the solo/Crosby-Nash albums up to almost the entire first album and most of the second).
We've already covered the 'new' recordings in some detail elsewhere in this book - suffice to say that most of them are very different and very very good. The highlight for me is the entire unedited nine minute take of 'Almost Cut My hair' - perhaps the place to hear the Stills-Young duelling guitar-work and which doesn't let up the tension for a second until the song finally breaks down (the song lasts all of 4:31 on the original so this is impressively longer too). There's the first ever CSN recording, a slightly breathless 'You Don't Have To Cry' that's of huge historical importance. There's a gorgeous demo of 'Guinevere' by Crosby and the Jefferson Airplane's Jack Casady (hmm CCSN would have been a great band too!) There's the first album outtake 'Blackbird' heard in studio form at last. There's the first recording with Neil Young, a sultry slower re-make of 'Helplessly Hoping'. There's a nice but poppy Nash song 'Horses Through A Rainstorm' also taped by The Hollies but which this trio sound much more comfortable singing. There's a lovely Crosby-Nash take of 'Song With No Words'. There's a pretty first joint recording by Crosby/Nash from 1971, a cover of Joni Mitchell's cover of 'Urge For Going'. There's a lovely fast-paced scrappy 1973 reunion take of 1977's 'See The Changes'. There's a delightful and rather polished 1974 reunion take of 'Homeward Through The Haze'. There's a nice 90 second Stills demo of his oft-recorded song 'My Love Is A Gentle Thing'. There's a so-so Crosby first go at 'Drive My Car' from 1979 that's remarkably different to the finished product. There's a pretty re-make of 'As I Come Of Age' from 1981. There's a fascinating lengthy cover of Stevie Winwood's 'Dear Mr Fantasy' from the very earliest days of 'Daylight Again'. There's a fascinating bare-bo0nes live version of 'Got It made' that's very different to the synthesised dead-end on 'American Dream'. There's a slightly lifeless first version of 'Soldiers Of peace' from the same album. There are two ropey live recordings a June 1970 concert at the Fillmore West and a third by Nash solo in 1979 that don't add much but do give a nice flavour of CSN as a live band. There's...ooh, there's lots, the majority of it unheard (and even unbootlegged), almost all of it superb, all of it revealing and relevant. This is what you dream box sets can be and nothing - not even the rather-good-too solo box sets can compare.
I only have two minor quibbles about this set and both are excusable. One is the lack of Neil Young songs - when Nash and Joel first discussed this set it was meant to cover the Young years equally, with lots of the recordings that later appeared on 'CSNY 74' (like 'Pushed It Over The End') and Neil's own 'Archives' set ('War Song') plus 'Country Girl' and possibly 'American Dream' and 'Human Highway' slated for inclusion here. Neil would have had a smaller presence, as befits his part-time role in the band, but would have been here nonetheless. Only Neil's manager David Briggs objected, claiming that the band would have been riding on his coat-tails so Neil's recordings got restricted to just two (thankfully they're 'Helpless' and 'Ohio') and the band were told not to use a picture of Neil on the front sleeve. This is a shame: goodness knows Neil didn't need the money (he was currently at a commercial peak with the release of 'Ragged Glory' and 'Weld') and if ever a band were all about sharing it was CSN. In the end the lack of songs from 'Déjà Vu' and 'American Dream' rather unbalances the set. My other quibble is that this set comes oh so close to chronological order - the classic pre-split years, for instance, are all on one disc and we end in the right place, bar the welcome finale of 1970 B-side 'Find The Cost Of Freedom' (the closing number on many a CSNY live show it makes perfect thematic sense here). No - my quibble is with the fact that this set 'nearly' gets the order right but when it doesn't the songs stuck out like a sore thumb. The very end of disc one, for instance, reaches out to the solo years with Crosby's 'Laughing' (taped in 1971) before disc two reaches back for the 'Ohio' single, 'Woodstock' and Deja Vu outtake 'The Lee Shore'. Disc two mainly covers the years 1970-1972 but includes two rogue Stills songs from 1975 ('Turn Back The Pages' and outtake 'My Love Is A Gentle Thing'). Side three starts with a brief CSNY reunion from 1973, darts backwards to 1972 for 'Graham Nash/David Crosby' and the second half of the Manassas coverage before leaping forward to 1975-77 years - oh, except for the songs from 'Wild Tales' from 1973 suddenly appearing in the middle of it all and the 1982 live version of 'Dark Star' appearing out of nowhere. Disc four rounds out the years from Nash's 'Earth and Sky' record in 1979 to CSN's 'Live It Up' album in 1990 - except for 1977's 'Cold Rain' which suddenly appears in the middle. Presumably these alternations have been made for the sake of fitting as many songs onto a disc as possible (at 297 minutes this is pretty close to maximum running time for a four CD box set, merely 20 odd minutes short) but even then the running order could have been changed round just a little bit so that the earliest songs are at the start and later songs are at the end of each disc. I'm not sure either about lumping so many songs by one writer together either - although the run of Stills 70s solo classics at the end of disc two do sound mighty fine together.
Overall, though, these are highly minor points compared to the majesty of the box set as a whole. I could sit here and query the odd track here and there (alright then here we go: '49 Bye Byes' seems an odd absentee -one of only two songs missing from the debut album along with 'Pre-Road Downs', although a few songs are here due to alternate takes, and the band clearly like it as it's on their single disc 'Greatest Hits' set, ditto 'Fair Game' - actually a minor hit single taken from 1977's 'CSN', while the addition of the studio tracks from 'Allies' would have been a nice little extra for fans - instead of the comparatively lesser live recordings maybe? ) However for every other box set I own the lost of spurious tracks would be twice the length of that list easily. By and large Nash and Bernstein made this set a neat mixture of the fair and the rare, diplomatically choosing the songs by all three stars that truly deserve their place in the CSN hall of greats and a neat catalogue not so much of what was 'wasted on the way' but what great music was created against all the odds, arguments and drug issues. In retrospect perhaps those missing Young songs would simply have gotten in the way. This is a great set for 'Beginners' and 'Survivors' alike! Weirdly, after getting as close to perfection as anyone has ever got, Atlantic decided to reduce this set to a two-disc compilation named 'Carry On' which is only about half as interesting; no, we don't understand that one either...
Crosby, Stills and Nash "Carry On"
(Atlantic, December 1991)
CD One: Woodstock/Marrakesh Express/You Don't Have To Cry (Alternate Take)/Teach Your Children/Love The One You're With/Almost Cut My hair (Unedited)/Wooden Ships/Dark Star (Live 'Allies' Version)/Helpless/Chicago-We Can Change The World/Cathedral/4+20/Our House/To The Last Whale (Critical Mass/Wind On The Water)/Change Partners/Just A Song Before I Go/Ohio/Wasted On The Way/Southern Cross
CD Two: Suite: Judy Blue Eyes (Alternate Version)/Carry On-Questions/Horses Through A Rainstorm aka Man With No Expressions/Johnny's Garden/Guinevere/Helplessly Hoping (Alternate Version)/The Lee Shore (Studio Take)/Taken At All (1976 CSNY Version)/Shadow Captain/As I Come Of Age (1981 Re-Recording)/Drive My Car (Crosby 1978 Version)/Dear Mr Fantasy/In My Dreams/Yours and Mine/Haven't We Lost Enough?/Find The Cost Of Freedom
"Haven't we had it rough? Haven't we lost enough?"
While the box set is as we've seen superb - one of the greatest box sets of them all, which did much to enchance CSN's reputation at a time they badly needed - for the life of me I can't see why this two-disc reduction of the set did as well or was even necessary. Not quite a best-of (too many songs are missing, like 'Long Time Gone' 'Love The One You're With' and the 'proper' take of 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes') and not quite a 'box set rarities' set either (all the live songs are missing, along with 'My Love Is A Gentle Thing' and the outtakes of 'Homeward Through The Haze' and 'See The Changes'), Atlantic didn't even have the decency to put the songs in the right order (the second disc particularly is a jumble, starting off at the very beginning, zooming through to the mid-70s, then back again, then forward to 1990, without running together any better than if the songs had been sampled chronologically). At least Atlantic sensibly stuck with the same cover, the delightful shot of the three very different looking expressions on the faces of three very different singers in true harmony as featured on the back sleeve of 'CSN' and Joel Bernstein's packaging (all taken from the box set) is excellent. But really, why bother getting this set when for roughly a third of the price more you could simply buy the box set with so many extra rarities as well? Unperturbed, WEA bought the rights to this set from Atlantic and released their own cheaper replica in 1998. With the box set long since deleted this at least made some sense and kept many excellent recordings on catalogue but again: why didn't they simply re-release the critically-acclaimed best-selling box set and give up on this Frankenstein set? Like all previous CSN compilations this is a cash-in and nothing more.
David Crosby "It's All Coming Back To Me Now..."
(Atlantic, Recorded December 1993, Released January 1995)
In My Dreams/Rusty and Blue/Hero/Till It Shines On You/Thousand Roads/Cowboy Movie/Almost Cut My Hair/Déjà Vu/Long Time Gone/Wooden Ships
"A fistfull of questions, a brand on my cheek - we would skate where the ice got thin"
Crosby isn't to know it, but this live concert taped nostalgically at the Byrds' favourite hangout The Whiskey-A-Go-Go - his first, officially, as a solo star - is about to become redundant. Recorded at a series of concerts undertaken with largely the usual CSN band to fill in time between records, it finds Croz at the end of his second 'brush with life' after his drugs bust and prison sentence. On its own terms it works well: Crosby is on good form, his bluesy backing band are a little static but have flashes of brilliance and the setlist is a neat mixture of the old and new. However Crosby is about to have his life changed again: the year after this set is recorded he falls deathly ill, nearly dies from liver failure and the series of concerts he undertakes thereafter (with new band CPR) are far more daring, emotional and poignant than this set's vague sense of doing things by numbers (it doesn't help that this is merely a one-off gig and the band, with new bassist Hutch Hutchinson 'stolen' from Bonnie Bramlett's touring group, haven't quite bedded in yet). In fact it seems rather ghoulishly that this live set kept being delayed precisely so that it could be out in the shops if Crosby snuffed it - a sad downside to the way rock and roll is run in the 20th century. Compared to the two live CPR sets to come (in 1998 and 1999) this set simply doesn't have the same spark or integrity, although it's not bad either, with the bonus of special guests Graham Nash (who sings on needlessly extended versions of 'Long Time Gone' 'Déjà Vu' and 'Wooden Ships' - singing Stills' parts) and Chris Robinson from The Black Crowes on album highlight 'Almost Cut My Hair' (which is slower and bluesier with shades of 'Black Queen', more the way Stills would have done it than the original).
At the time this show was most famous for it's uninterrupted run of new material early on (more something you associate with Neil Young live albums than Crosby's): 'Rusty and Blue' ('CPR' 1998), 'Hero' (A Thousand Roads' 1993), 'Till It Shines On You' ('After The Storm' 1994) and 'Thousand Roads' ('Thousand Roads' 1993). Of these only the last song really 'works' with a much louder, fuller sound than on the record, while the others sound rather simply sound rather hopelessly over-bluesed. Despite running to an impressive hour running time, it's sad that two other songs taped at this show were dropped from the CD which on paper at least would have been the most interesting: the first live revival of Crosby-Nash 1975 ballad 'Naked In The Rain' and a cover of blues standard 'Motherless Children' . Sadly Crosby doesn't seem to have performed his 'other' new song, which rather weirdly became the title track of this album - although it does make for a neat sequel to the name of his first album 'If Only I Could Remember My Name'. Thankfully Crosby will keep the best of this setlist and the band for his future work, with Jeff Pevar's bluesier work sounding a little overblown here but fitting in nicely with the more acoustic feel of CPR in the years to come which will blow even a set this consistent and competent out of the water.
Various Artists "Flipper" (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
(Track Factory, April 1996)
In The Summertime (Mungo Jerry)/Do It Again (The Beach Boys)/It's Not Unusual (Tom Jones)/Tipitina (Professor Longhair)/Flipper (Matthew Sweet/Main Title (CSN)//Abandoned and Alone/Sandy Meets Flipper/Flipper Ballet/He Belongs At Sea/Marv Meets Flipper/The Secret Weapon/Sandy Searches/Attack Of The Hammerhead/Flipper Goes Home
(second side = incidental music)
"Strewth! What are a pair of yanks and a pommy limey doing on the soundtrack of a film with more clichéd Australians in it than 'Crocodile Dundee'? It's enough to put you off your barbie and stop yer boomerang from coming back!"
In 1996 CSN were my entire life. Admittedly that's true of an awful lot of years but especially 1996: they just followed me about, everywhere, despite not releasing anything else that year. Not to get too weird about it but it became ridiculous how many times they kept creopping up everywhere I went (not that I was complaining, just surprised) and at one stage I began to wonder if there was a CSN-loving angel following me about: 'No Nukes' and the longer version of 'Woodstock 94' were finally on the telly, I found a bumper crop of missing CSN albums and books everywhere I went (including lots of rarities I've never seen since) and blow me down if CSN didn't suddenly appear unexpectedly in the one film I saw at the cinema that year (I didn't even want to see this film and went to it reluctantly - yet everyone came out of it convinced I'd somehow talked them into seeing a kiddies film because of the one three-minute CSN song over the opening credits).
To this day I'm not quite sure why CSN ended up appearing on this rather pedestrian re-boot of the charming dolphin and his irritating human pet (the film is a remake of one from 1963 that's almost as irritating but less right-on and an actually quite sweet if often deadly dull TV series of 1964; the irritating human is a pre-fame Elijah Wood back in the days before he was an irritating hobbit, by the way, while the irritating uncle is actor Paul Hogan way too long after his peak in the spotlight). Chances the producers vaguely remembered they did a song about saving whales ('Crosby-Nash's 'Wind On The Water') and thought 'that'll do'. As it happens CSN don't turn in one of their ecological protest songs but as wordless choral chant over the opening titles (with a brief reprise over the end credits) and backing lots of effects of whales swimming. The effect is not unlike hearing a happier version of 'Critical Mass', with a little hint of David Crosby and Jerry Garcia's 1971 outtake 'Kids and Dogs'. The song has a simple 'bom de ba da doo bo ba da' melody' and is pretty without being in anyway essential hearing. Still, not a lot of CSN fans seem to realise it's really them so we include it here for completion's sake (in case you're wondering it's still easily the best thing on the soundtrack album, Beach Boys aside, which is full of late 1960s songs for some reason).
CPR "Live At Cuesta College"
(Sampson, Recorded 1997 Released March 1998)
In My Dreams/Tracks In The Dust/Homeward Through The Haze/Rusty and Blue/Thousand Roads/For Free/Morrison/Somehow She Knew/Till It Shines On You/Time Is The Final Currency/Where Will I Be?/Page 43/Delta/Déjà Vu/One For Every Moment/Guinevere/Wooden Ships
"All my life, all my life, I wanted to understand!"
Their records may have sold poorly and been released solely in America (or via horrifically pricey imports) and their greatest achievements may have been overshadowed by lesser CSNY reunions but there's still a case to be made that CPR were the best thing that ever happened to David Crosby. With CSN slowing down but a re-energised Crosby desperate to work, it was natural that Croz should look for another outlet. How he found it, though, is testament to the sheer OTT ridiculousness of the Crosby story (which the day it's finally turned into a film will have to be a ten-part epic just to fit everything in - and won't be believed even though it's all true). On the very same day in 1994 Crosby collapsed and found out he needed a liver transplant; his wife Jan found out that, after some twenty years of trying (with the couple's drug-taking having reduced their chances for so long) that she was pregnant; oh and a mysterious figure dropped by out of the blue asking to see his 'dad'. This figure was James Raymond, the son Crosby had run away from when his groupie girlfriend got pregnant in 1962 and saw dad on the run from police (although some sources on the internet erroneously date this later to 1964) before being given up for adoption. Raymond, a lifelong music fiend and a talented pianist with jazz tendencies, had long been an admirer of The Byrds and CSN and yet had no idea until his middle-thirties that he was related. Too nervous to get into contact with 'rockstar' Crosby directly at first and still half-disbelieving what his birth certificate said, Raymond wrote his father a long letter, claiming that he's had a really happy childhood and came to him not out of revenge or spite but because he thought he ought to know - Crosby, who at one stage was getting a lot of these sort of letters, was moved enough to invite him round and the pair discovered they shared not only the same musical tastes and styles but a really deep emotional connection. And as an added bonus the day Raymond called round he's just heard that he was expecting a child of his own - with Crosby becoming a father and grandfather all on the same day!
Naturally Crosby turned to working with his son and the pair worked up some new material along with Jeff Pevar, a talented guitarist Crosby knew from his work with CSN and who he thought might fit with the nicely acoustic style the pair had been working on. CPR were born and right away were something special, as this 'debut' concert testifies. After the dead-end of Crosby as a 'covers' singer ('Thousand Roads') and his relatively uninspired songs for the 1994 CSN album 'After The Storm' Crosby was invigorated, his near-brush with death (which, needless to say, he survived - although there was a campaign from some patients on the liver transplant list that, as a former drug addict, Crosby should have been at the back of the queue) and re-discovery of the miracle of life re-igniting his creative mind and sliding him out of complacency the same way his time in prison had kick-started his interest in writing again in the late eighties. Several of Crosby's new songs were his most stunning in years: autobiographical in a way that his songs hadn't been since the mid-seventies (a few even touching on the difficult subject of Christine Hinton's death - his first since 1972) and full of Crosby's typical wit and wisdom. Best of all, there was no attempt to 'commercialise' these songs or release them to any great fanfare: Crosby seemed to be releasing them purely for old timer fans who'd 'understand' where all this stuff was coming from, a fact which made them ever more emotional and intimate. For a start these tracks were released not on Atlantic (which had given up on CSN by now) but on a small label: wittily named 'Samson Records' after both the line in 'Homeward Through The Haze' and a reference to 'Almost Cut My Hair' (which is the mistake Samson made in the Bible). Pevar and Raymond also collaborated and wrote the odd song themselves, the former bringing a jagged and the latter a jazzy edge to Crosby's writing that made a nice change after years of working with no one else but Stills Nash Young and Phil Collins.
This first release was a live gig recorded not in front of a sell-out crowd or launched at Woodstock as per CSNY: instead it's a low key set recorded in front of a cosy crowd at a San Luis, California University. Without a full collections of songs yet (there are just four songs from the first CPR album here) CPR mainly stick to old Crosby songs, but it's what they do with them that makes this set so special. Starting with a live rendition of 'In My Dreams' from 'CSN' in 1977 that knocks spots off the recent 1995 revival, CPR instantly sound both like CSN did in their early acoustic days and a whole new beast, with a jazzier more exotic twinge (had Crosby and Stills gone their separate ways in 1968 then Crosby's solo career could well have sounded like this). The track listing has several other 'firsts' in it too, from a glorious rendition of 1989's 'Tracks In The Dust' to a stunning revival of 1972's 'Where Will I Be?/Page 43' (with all sorts of keyboard shenanigans replicating the opening swirly atmospherics of the original), this is a live album that - in contrast to all of the CSN/Y live albums out there doesn't play safe in any way shape or form. Even the old warhorses like 'Guinevere' 'Deja Vu' and 'Wooden Ships' are recorded in arguably their definitive live versions here, while the biggest surprise is that 'Rusty and Blue' (the new Crosby song debuted on 'It's All Coming Back To Me Now' just three years before) has turned from a difficult, obstinate overblown prog rock song into a masterpiece of jazz cat-and-mouse, in turns playful and sinister. However the biggest highlights are two stunning new ballads which sound even more stunning here than on the first album: Christine Hinton farewell 'Somehow She Knew' and the moving deathbed song 'Time Is The Final Currency', both delivered with so much power and awed audience silence you could hear a pin drop. Crosby is clearly in a great place and his band are special from the first with 'Cuesta College' about as essential a live purchase as any live album can be. For once, unlike the other live Crosby CDs, we haven't all been here before and this exploration of new territories is an immense delight, with Crosby's back catalogue sparkling and shimmering as if it was brand new.
CPR "Live At The Wiltern"
(Sampson, Recorded November 1998, Released September 1999)
Morrison/Little Blind Fish/One For Every Moment/That House/Homeward Through The Haze/At The Edge/It's All Coming Back/Rusty and Blue/Delta/Dream For Him/Old Soldier/Hero/Long Time Gone/Déjà Vu/Eight Miles High/Ohio/Almost Cut My Hair
"I got too much to lose - I got so much to gain!"
While for most bands releasing a second live CD so soon after the first and after just one studio album might have been a problem, the sheer range of Crosby's back catalogue means that there's actually very few replicas here from the 'Cuesta College' live CD ('Homeward Through The Haze' 'Rusty and Blue' 'Morrison' 'Delta' 'Déjà Vu' 'One For Every Moment'),leaving an impressive eleven songs difference. While not featuring anything quite as stunning as that first record's reading of 'Time Is The Final Currency' or 'Where Will I Be?' (with 'Dream For Him' the only song unissued at the time) this record is far less of a rollercoaster ride, with the trio that much more rehearsed and bedded in after a year of touring. That extra slickness really benefits the jaw-dropping closing trilogy (The Byrds 'Eight Miles High' last played by Crosby in 1967 and CSNY's 'Ohio' not heard with Crosby on stage since 1974, plus the definitive take of 'Almost Cut My Hair'), though the band are still nicely loose most of the way through especially in the ever-revealing between-song chat, Crosby joking as early as the second song that he'd blown a promise he made to wife about his nervous tic of pulling his trousers up all the time ('I'm sorry darling...just blew it, immediately!) and pretending later to be Frankenstein's rock monster ('I just can't control myself!') before telling the audience about his drug-period nightmares of being trapped inside a house unable to escape (just before a spine-tingling reading of 'That House').
The big talking point - and probably the reason the band decided to record this show in the first place - is the presence of three big-name star guests who turn up on the second CD. Crosby had been promoting songwriter Marc Cohn's work ever since his release from prison but this is to date the only time the two men have appeared together with a sensitive reading of 'Old Soldier', the song Crosby first recorded for 'Thousand Roads' in 1993. Crosby's friendship with Phil Collins also stretched back to his prison days when Collins kindly contacted Crosby with support by letter during his darkest days and apart from some faked-up footage on Collins' promo for 'That's Just The Way It Is' (where it looks as if Crosby is on stage, but is really in a movie lot) is the only time to date the pair have worked together live. Their harmonies are still a little ill-fitting but it's nice to hear a slightly fast-paced version of 'Hero' which is, unfortunately enough, the only time to date Crosby has ever performed his near-hit single. The third star is none other than Graham Nash, marking the first time the pair had worked together since 1994 and he fits well into the band's shows - by now highly reminiscent of the Crosby-Nash shows of the mid-70s that left you crying and laughing almost within the same sentence (appearing on a bluesy jazzy reading of 'Long Time Gone', an extended very jazzy rendition of 'Déjà Vu' and the fiery encore 'Ohio').
However it's the first disc where CPR shine best, tackling complex songs such as 'Little Blind Fish' (originally a 1970s CSNY outtake), the spine-tingling 'That House' and the emotional 'At The Edge' (both songs taken from their first studio album 'CPR') as if they'd been singing and playing together forever, not a mere year-and-a-bit. In fact all the studio album songs sound better here, benefitting from the added bite of being played live, especially the one true CPR rocker 'It's All Coming Back To Me Now'. While this live show isn't quite as special as the 'Cuesta College' one - it's the difference between repeating a triumph and discovering it for the first time, even if song-per-song the performances here are arguably slightly better - the result is still the same: Crosby is in a good place, supported by a great band and is comfortable enough to dig ever deeper into his own psyche after a decade or so of coasting. This is a special show from a special band and like the other three CPR releases it's nothing short of criminal that these records didn't sell better (and that they're so hard to get anywhere outside America).
Crosby-Nash "The Best Of - The ABC Years"
(MCA, 'Mid' 2002)
Carry Me/Mama Lion/Bittersweet/Take The Money and Run/Naked In The Rain/Love Work Out/Homeward Through The Haze/To The Last Whale (Critical Mass/Wind On The Water)/Spotlight/Broken Bird/Time After Time/Mutiny/Taken At All/Foolish Man/Out Of The Darkness/Immigration Man (Live)/The Lee Shore (Live)/I Used To Be A King (Live)/Déjà Vu (Live)
"The cannibals are waiting on the edge to eat the meat that they can smell, and the monkeys standing in line can do the steps very well"
Having got bored of licensing Crosby and Nash's 'Wind On The Water' to anyone who asked, ABC finally did the decent thing and opened up their entire archives to 'proper' record label MCA. Thankfully this meant that fans could finally get hold of material from both 'Whistling Down The Wire' and 'Crosby-Nash Live' on CD for the first time - although frankly a straightforward re-issue of both albums would have been much better all round. After all, how can this really be a best-of when taken from just three albums (one of them a concert, one of them rated by fans as being not much cop?) Even the track listing is a little suspect: thankfully most of what you need is here but where are - to pull a few songs off at random - 'Low Down Payment' 'Fieldworker' 'Dancer' 'JB's Blues' and the live versions of 'Simple Man' and 'Mama Lion' (all preferable to most of what's here, such as 'Spotlight' and 'Foolish Man'; better still, why not just release the whole bang lot on two discs? Or if that costs too much for a budget label, why not release the entire two studio albums on one disc and put the live one out separately?) To be fair this compilation makes a much better fist of things than the previous 'best of' from 1979: the packaging uses a decent photograph (an outtake from the cover shot for 'Wind On The Water') and has a few interesting stories to tell in the sleevenotes, so it isn't all that bad. But why release half of a great thing when you can release it all (and releasing it all wouldn't take up enough room to scare everybody off?) And what makes this a 'best of' anyway, skipping a mere five studio songs and five live tracks doesn't in truth make that much difference (this is a duo, remember, who never had a hit single)? Record companies are weird.
Stephen Stills "Turnin' Back The Pages"
(Raven Records, November 2003)
As I Come Of Age/In The Way/New Mama/Cold Cold World/Love Story/Turn Back The Pages/First Things First/Stateline Blues/The Loner/Buyin' Time/Soldier/Closer To You/Ring Of Love/Circlin'/Midnight Rider/Not Fade Away/Can't Get No Booty/What's The Game?/Thoroughfare Gap/Beaucoup Yumbo/You Don't Love Me/It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry (Super Session Version)
"Life's too short for repetitious chases!"
Now here's a funny thing. In all my years of collecting I have never ever had the problems I've experienced trying to purchase Stills' CBS catalogue CD. Despite 1975's 'Stills' being one of our 'core 101 album classics' (the only one I don't own on CD now that 10cc have finally done the sensible thing and released their last two horrendously under-rated albums) I have never owned it on CD and only own a beaten up vinyl copy of it. My collection carries a Stills-shaped hole to this day - and all the collectors among you (i.e. everyone whose got this far through the book I should think) will know what a pain that is. I first tried to buy the rather promising looking double-disc set containing 'Stills' 'Illegal Stills' and 'Thoroughfare Gap' from HMV - but they had the wrong disc inside (I was already to rant and rave about what nonsense was in it but my notes tell me it was Irish prog rock band Tir Na Nog so fair does, I probably should have kept it instead of getting it refunded). I tried again in a second hand shop - and they had a different wrong disc inside (this was bad - it was some godawaful boy band or something; I do hope, though, that if someone else took my Stills disc home and listened to some 'real' music by mistake they then became a fan for life luxuriating in the sheer brilliance of CSN and are possibly reading this right now! No? Well, it was a nice thought...) I then tried ordering this set from Amazon: only a compilation I know, but better than nothing. It cost a lot too, as it was off catalogue in the UK (it never made the backwater shops near me at the time or I'd have bought it). It got cancelled. I've never had an order cancelled by Amazon before (not that I use it that much - whoops I've just remembered they were our business partners back in our early days when our site was hosted by Moonfruit: what a great site, terrific, wonderful - how about some free CDs?!?!?) and don't know anyone else who has either. Did someone just beat me to it? Did they look on in horror at what the postage fees abroad would be? (or did they look in the box and find a CD of flipping Tir Na Nog inside?!?)
Anyway, I can't actually review this CD for you. I can't comment on re-mastering, packaging, photographs or any mistakes that always seem to happen in this sort of thing. I can however tell you that the track listing looks pretty sound, given that CBS only have three albums to work from (plus a sneaky bit of franchising from the 1968 'Super Session' LP, which must sound way out of whack with the rest of the set hidden away at the end). A full seven songs from 'Stills' appear - personally I'd have added the stunning finale 'Myth Of Sisyphus' and the sweet 'My Favourite Changes' as well but hey ho - at least 'Shuffle Just As Bad' is the right song to get the push. 'Illegal Stills' also gets seven songs, which is stretching things a bit - especially as all the boring generic songs are here and yet 'Midnight In Paris' isn't. 'Thoroughfare Gap' gets six songs, sadly cover songs for the most part, although highlights 'What's The Game?' and 'Can't Get No Booty' are here. Yay! (Sadly the very best song 'You Can't Dance Alone' isn't, though. Boo!) The result doesn't turn back many pages in truth (kudos for the excellent and fitting choice of title by the way) but is a good alternative for fans like me who seem destined never to get the albums proper on CD any time soon.
Crosby, Stills and Nash "Greatest Hits"
(Rhino, March 2005)
Suite: Judy Blue Eyes/Long Time Gone/Just A Song Before I Go/Southern Cross/Marrakesh Express/Helplessly Hoping/Shadow Captain/Our House/Guinevere/See The Changes/Teach Your Children/Wooden Ships/Delta/49 Bye Byes/Wasted On The Way/Carry On-Questions/In My Dreams/Cathedral/Daylight Again
"Looking at the world through the sunset in your eyes"
I envy the kids of today. There they are with their i-pod nannies and their streamclouds and whatnot (in my days i-tunes were just cough sweets, an mp player was a cheeky elected political representative in parliament -and all of this was fields, you know) and it's all so much easier to navigate the complicated world of high school, not like in my day in the dim and dusty past of the 1990s.
I still remember it well: 'Oi you! I would nick your dinner money buts it probably paid in groats and farthings. I want to hear and laugh about some more about these geezers you keep banging on about incessantly' (I'm paraphrasing obviously - nu bully would use the word incessantly, which is odd because incessantly is a word that sums up many bullies) 'these bangers and mash trio. *Sniff* They can't be any good 'cause they're like well old, ain't they? Do they look like well old and that?' Reluctantly I have to confess that age has slightly withered their charismatic countenances, but that surely was just evidence of their rock and roll lifestyle! 'Nah I can't be doing with old man, it's not like the proper music of today then - I mean Take That are gonna be cool forever man, they're never to get old and bald and fat and ugly, oh no - and S Club 7 are like well 'ard innit? Did I ever tell you I'm in love with one of the Spice Girls?' I try hard to keep a straight face. 'Anyway your geezers - did they have any, like, hits then?' 'Yep, loads - there's this one about a train in Marrakesh' Umm why? 'Dunno - what's a zig-ah-zig-ah by the way Mr Spice Girl?' 'That's don't need to mean nothing, just sheer poetry innit? What else?' 'Well there's this great protest song about not cutting your hair'. 'Nah - my protest is that I cut my hair - skinhead ya see!' 'There's this terrific protest song about the president shooting four students dead for daring to protest - it made Richard Nixon terrified!' 'Nixon? We did that in history didn't we? Nah I don't do history!' 'There's a parable about everyone escaping in a nuclear accident on wooden ships and starting a new life of peace and freedom and solidarity in the future'. 'Do they bash anyone up like, in revenge?' 'Erm, not really - CSN are all about peace. There's one song they do about teaching children' 'Bleeding bunch of school teachers - it gets worse! Any songs about football? 'No - lots of songs about drugs though'. 'Ah bet none of them took drugs the way I do man, I really took the hard stuff!' 'One of them went to prison for it' 'Ha - getting caught like that, shocker!' 'Err, no, it didn't quite happen like that...look I've enjoyed this little chat...' 'Bring us in a compilation. A single disc mind - not a boxed set with hundreds of CDs, I know what you're like' 'What?' 'I'm interested - not in the music obviously, but I might know some of the tunes'. 'Erm there isn't one. I mean there is, there's two but I don't own either of them because they're expensive vinyl records that came out 30 years ago' - 'Vinyls what they have on floors innit?' - 'Erm, never mind. Look there isn't a decent CD compilation out there. Look they're all pretty good, even the one with cocktail sausages on the cover - I can bring you a box set if you'd like?'
How much aggro I'd have saved had 'CSN Greatest Hits' existed in my era then. Not that it's perfect by any means: nothing here is in order for starters and there's nothing here from after 1982 (which isn't necessarily the blessing naysayers would think it is - there's no 'Compass' 'Haven't We Lost Enough?' 'Arrows' 'Unequal Love' or 'Only Waiting For You' for starters, or the half-rap song 'Seen Enough' which might have got me added kudos in the above predicament. CSN are clearly portrayed here as pure nostalgia which is queasy enough in itself without the thought that to some extent it's the wrong nostalgia (why is 'In My Dreams' here over 'Cold Rain' 'See The Changes' over 'Run From Tears' for instance and why only two songs from 'Daylight Again'). Oh and the biggest surprise - only three from 'Deja Vu' (so no 'Almost Cut My Hair' '4+20' 'Woodstock' or Deja Vu' itself. No one's ever said anything but presumably Neil Young's lawyers got in touch and refused to allow anything he appeared on this time round, as well as just simply wrote - which also sadly means there's no 'Ohio' or 'Find The Cost Of Freedom'. Which is just stupid and means the compilers have to improvise by adding seven out of ten songs from the first album, plus Stills' solo hit 'Love The One You're With' and the title track of Crosby-Nash's 'Wind On The Water' (which thanks to ABC's loose franchising policy probably came cheap - so why not use more as per the box set? The same goes with Stills' solo stuff - why not add near-hits like 'Sit Yourself Down' and 'So Begins The Task' which, by virtue of being on Atlantic, came free, or the Crosby-Nash legitimate hit 'Immigration Man' also out on Atlantic? You get the feeling whoever compiled this really doesn't know their Nickleback-sides from their Elbows). The result is in many ways terrible - there's a cheap and not that remarkable shot of the trio on the front cover that's tinted gold in an attempt to make it look interesting, the most basic of track information in the history of compact discs and a bizarre running order that somehow makes less sense than if it had been picked at random. Yet for all that, the fact that it exists after so many years of making do with 'So Far' (ten short tracks) and 'Replay' (twelve short tracks, some of them fiddled with) plus solo compilations is in itself enough somehow. Rather sweetly the album also contains a long overdue dedication to Mama Cass, who first introduced the trio to each other. It just came too late, that's all. (In case you're wondering I simply leant out my spare copy of the first album, which covered most of the basics anyway and looked like a compilation what with the eponymous title and everything. I think I converted another fan, too, although somehow CSN always stayed second to The Spice Girls - and you have no idea how much that sentence pained me to type out).
David Crosby "Voyage"
(Rhino. November 2006)
CD One: Eight Miles High/Renaissance Fair/Everybody Has Been Burned/Wooden Ships/Guinevere/Long Time Gone/Déjà Vu/Almost Cut My Hair/Tamalpais High (At About Three)/Laughing/Music Is Love/Song With No Words (Tree With No Leaves)/What Are Their Names?/I'd Swear There Was Somebody Here/Where Will I Be?/Page 43/Critical Mass/Carry Me/Bittersweet/Naked In The Rain/Dancer
CD Two: Shadow Captain/In My Dreams/Delta/Compass/Tracks In The Dust/Arrows/Hero/Yvette In English/Rusty and Blue/Somehow She Knew/Breathless/Map To Buried Treasure/At The Edge/Through Here Quite Often/My Country 'Tis Of Thee (2004 Version)
CD Three: Long Time Gone (Demo)/Guinevere (Demo)/Almost Cut My Hair (Demo)/Games (Demo)/Déjà Vu (Demo)/Triad (Demo)/Cowboy Movie (Alternate Take)/Kids and Dogs/Have You Seen The Stars Tonite? (Crosby with Paul Kantner/Jefferson Starship)/The Lee Shore (Crosby-Nash Live 1971)/Traction In The Rain (Crosby-Nash Live 1971)/King Of The Mountain/Homeward Through The Haze (CSNY 1974 Version)/Samurai (1978 Solo Version)/Climber (CSNY 1999 Version)/Dream For Him (CSNY Live 2000)
"Voyages and see forests, deep blue and rusty, sew them into a satchel and leave them at your door"
The first of three highly beautiful (yet incredibly expensive) box sets dedicated to the three individual members of CSN, this is a welcome chance to re-appraise Crosby's body of work anew, made with a lot of love and care and devotion by compilers Graham Nash and CSN archivist Joel Bernstein. Spanning a trio of CDs, this sort of loose variant of the CSN box set (including many rarities and unreleased recordings alongside what's generally considered to be Crosby's best work) is an excellent way to kill several Byrds with one stone as it were: it kept Crosby and CSN in the public eye at a time when they had no new music to offer, reminded the world of what a great group they were together and apart, rode the crest of a much kinder wave than CSN had had recently (what with the 'Freedom Of Speech' tour and the well-received and generally five-starred CD re-issue of Crosby's first album) and helped Croz earn some much needed money without having to lift a finger (Nash did all the work for him). Cynics saw the high price tag (I paid £60 for mine at the time, after a lot of stockroom-checking in HMV where they'd never heard of CSN apparently but, you guessed it, had a whole bay of Neil Young CDs - they've fluctuated somewhere between £40 and £80 ever since) and the amount of re-issued material here and cried 'fowl'. They have a point: these sets could have been made cheaper or perhaps been made longer at the same price (I still don't see why they couldn't simply release everything Crosby made from 1969 onwards, the second half of which is still hard to track down to this day, in one handy place - I'd have gladly paid more and helped Crosby out of a hole with that attitude). However at least they are made properly, successfully reviving the CSN box set format of having Crosby or one of his pals talk a little about each song (a little trick sadly missing from the more defensive Stills' set) and feature stunning mainly unseen photographs against each song (Crosby is incredibly photogenic in every era and thankfully there's a lot of shots of him in every era, mainly taken by Nash - a delightful childhood of shot of him and family pet to illustrate 'Kids and Dogs' is our favourite). What's more the title and 'boat' theme continued throughout the set is spot-on: this feels like a 'journey', with the little replica 'captain's logbook' recalling all sorts of Crosby lyrics from 'Wooden Ships' to 'Shadow Captain' to 'Page 43' (which I did look up especially for a laugh to see if Crosby had hidden the 'meaning of life' there but no such luck: **) As ever with these sets there's a boring essay that doesn't add much, but at least they cared enough to try I suppose (and it's less condescending than the pair poor Stills got in his set). The result is a great set with just about enough new things here to float fans' boats (especially the packaging) and which is ideal for newcomers fans who don't own much at all (clue: if you hadn't guessed this already from the rest of the book, you'll love it - well most of it!), even if a few mistakes have been made along the way.
Now, due to a quirk of having written reviews of the Stills (2013) and Nash (2009) sets for the album proper back in the day, I find myself coming to review this first set last (Alan's Album Archives was just a twinkle in the internet's eye back in 206 - who cheered?!) What strikes me now, knowing how the other two turned out, is how different 'Voyage' is compared to 'Carry On' and 'Reflections'. There's just three discs here, not four as per the Stills set and all the rarities have been locked away on the final disc - which if you already own everything Crosby did (and I ever so nearly did at the time, with just the second CPR album missing) means you will never ever play the first two discs. That, clearly, is daft and Nash and Bernstein correctly realize their mistake and correct it for the later sets (which simply present everything in chronological order - well, nearly in the case of the Nash set). However this doesn't help the 'Voyage' set, which ends up skewed between the 'classic' years on disc one (the only one casual fans will play, ending in 1976) even though a quirk of not wanting to repeat any song included in an alternate unreleased form on disc three means that actually most of the best stuff is on disc two (seriously: how can you not love a CD that starts with 'Shadow Captain', passes through 'Delta' and 'Compass', includes almost all the best songs from Crosby solos two and three and ends up safely in the arms of CPR? By contrast disc one has just three Byrds recordings and misses large chunks of the Crosby-Nash albums) . The track listing is generally fair, though and generally comprehensive (although it's sad that space couldn't be found for 'Whole Cloth' 'The Wall Song' 'Low Down Payment' 'Time After Time' 'Anything At All' 'Night-Time For The Generals' 'Distances'...Ok, I'll stop now, I promise, but believe me there's a lot more gems that could have been included). There's even a particularly nice segue from the scary choral chant 'I'd Swear There Was Somebody Here' from 'Name' into the even scarier 'Where Will I Be?' from 'Graham Nash/David Crosby', which works remarkably well until the soothing calm of 'Page 43' bats all that worry away. Nice!
Having all the 'extras' tucked away at the end, one after another, rather negates the impact of each even though, recording-for-recording, the Crosby set easily beats the other two for both what counts as a 'rarity' (no hidden-away-on-live-LP-selections here!) and for their quality. One day I shall write a whole article about the beauty of Crosby home demos: the way they always start tentatively, as if Crosby is getting his ideas in order, only to pull together with some memorable hook that connects the whole thing together and then goes off somewhere left-field no other writer would dare try. That happens here six times (including a blink=-and-you'll-miss-the-difference alternate mix of the already released 'Guinevere' demo) - more than even the CSN 'demos' set - and features beautifully haunting versions of 'Deja Vu' (minus the ending), 'Almost Cut My Hair' (minus the ferociousness) , 'Triad' (minus the tongue-in-cheekness), a stunning 'King Of The Mountain' (Crosby connecting with Stills' loneliness and pain, a 1975 repayment for what Stills did for Crosby on 'Do For The Others' in 1970) and 'Games' (which comes minus just about everything). Elsewhere there's a noisier and more rambling 'Cowboy Movie' which would never have made the 'Name' record but features some truly stunning guitar duels between polar opposite guitar geniuses Neil Young and Jerry Garcia, the haunting acoustic 'Kids and Dogs' instrumental with Crosby and Garcia egging each other on, the lovely 'Looking Forward' outtake 'Climber' later re-cut with CPR but sounding better here (it might not be up to Crosby's pair on that record but beat all of Nash's and Young's songs and most of Stills' and really deserved it's place) plus a pair of pretty Crosby-Nash live songs from their loose and by-now 'legendary' 1971 tour. All of these are great little finds, but the most telling thing here might well be the worst recordings ever to appear under the CSN name: a terrible hopeless demo for 'Long Time Gone' that sounds so gauche and self-aware of its own sincerity it could have been on a trailer for Fox News: what the hell did Stills do to turn it into one of Crosby's greatest five masterpieces?! The other example is 'Samurai', surprisingly the only recording here from Crosby's aborted drug-riddled 1979 solo album which paints a much more believable picture of how lost and isolated and weird that period was for Crosby than the actually rather with-it recordings that came out later on 1989's 'Oh Yes I Can!' and the 1991 CSN box set. Both need to be heard every CSN fan, once, before being quietly filed away never to be played again, along with all the twenty or so minutes of padding on this set which is plainly here to bulk out the 'rarities' disc to an even length (for the record we've had the 'Guinevere' demo and 1974 CSNY version of 'Homeward Through The Haze' before, while the live 'Dream For Him' from 1999 is CSNY at their ropiest and most hopeless (though boding well that somebody somewhere official recorded one of these usually cracking shows). Note also that anyone who owns the superlative Paul Kantner album 'Blows Against The Empire' (and everyone reading this should: it's the best thing to have Crosby's name attached to it in 1971 it's that good - and you all know what else he was doing that year by now!) will already own the lovely 'Have You Seen The Stars Tonite? (Despite the credits none of these sound like different mixes to me - well not enough to warrant the label anyway - while I'd have preferred 'A Child Is Coming' from Blows anyway, which comes with the added bonus for more Crosby). Note too that 'Kids and Dogs' had come a mere year earlier when Rhino re-issued Crosby's 'Name' album. Still, fair does: a good half of this third Rarities disc lives up to being both rare and excellent and there aren't that many box sets you can say that about.
Overall, then, 'Voyage' is my favourite of the three sets: Nash's 'Reflections' has even better packaging and Stills' 'Carry On' simply has more...everything what with a cheeky extra fourth disc, but 'Voyage' has a greater sequence of truly stunning drop-dead gorgeous songs on discs one and two and ever so slightly better rarities to cheer. However this is all still something of a mixed blessing: my end feeling on all three sets is that they're good but no substitute for the box set the trio did together in 1991, which manages to feature every essential CSN song every family needs to own, along with the same amount of rarities included on all three separate, pricier box sets.
Crosby, Stills and Nash: "Demos"
(Rhino, Recorded 1968-71, Released June 2009)
Marrakesh Express/Almost Cut My Hair/You Don't Have To Cry/ Déjà Vu/Sleep Song/My Love Is A Gentle Thing/Be Yourself/Music Is Love/Singing' Call/Long Time Gone/Chicago/Love The One You're With
"Help us make some more!"
Back when the CSN box set was being discussed, Nash asked tape archivist Joel Bernstein for copies of every unreleased thing he could find, all three men opening up their tape vaults for him too. Early on they realised that they could have filled a box set with demo recordings alone - all three were keen demo-makers going back to their Byrds/Springfield/Hollies days and had kept the practice up for most of their careers. In the end the only demos to make the box set were Crosby's exquisite 'Guinevere' and Stills' fragment 'My Love Is A Gentle Thing' (four more appeared later on the end of the 'Crosby. Stills and Nash' CD re-issue). Hopes were high in the CSN community that after the box set had been - generally - well received a set of demos was on the cards - but in the end it took another 18 years for us to get a rather watered down 40 minute collection (a tad ungenerous in the CD age). Restricting the chronology to just CSN's first four years (although even the running order is very haphazard), 'Demos' isn't so much a comprehensive collection as a quick money-maker during a time when CSN badly needed it. Compared to the four box sets by CSN together or solo this is almost ridiculously blank: there's no packaging, no liner notes and the album doesn't even come in a proper box but one of those flimsy cardboard ones.
What's more much of the stuff on here has been heard before: 'Music Is Love' is merely a different and slightly longer mix of the 'If Only I Could Remember My Name' version with Nash/Young vocals/overdubs coming in from the start instead of halfway through and ending in a groovy guitar lick (and does an improvised song really count as a demo anyway?), Crosby's 'Almost Cut My Hair' 'Deja Vu' and the band version of 'Long Time Gone' (why does this count as a demo too?!?) had already appeared in shorter, less polished form on 'Voyage', Stills' 'My Love Is A Gentle Thing' is a barer version of what ended up on the 'CSN' box set of 1991 but isn't all that different and Nash's demo for 'Be Yourself' was already common to anyone who knew the soundtrack of the film 'Up In The Air' (in fact it's arguably the highest profile recording CSN had had in years - since the 'Flipper' soundtrack perhaps in terms of people who heard it even if they didn't quite know what it was).
That's six songs out of twelve - half the set - already catered for. So what was the rest like? Well, rather good actually. 'Marrakesh Express' as performed by Crosby-Nash sounds more like it did in their concerts with twin acoustic guitars making the backing sound ever more like a 'train'. 'You Don't Have To Cry' sounds very different without the harmonies and with trickier guitar-work from Stills (he clearly adapted it for Crosby to sing sometime in 1968, never mind Nash on the occasion of that famous party where they met). 'Sleep Song', a fairly basic recording anyway on 'Songs For Beginners', doesn't sound very different but I prefer Nash's performance here: he sounds as if he's just woken up and is feeling his way, which is highly in keeping with the lyrics. 'Singing' Call' is another song that's as near as identical to the 'Stephen Stills II' released version as possible and while not quite as good it's nice for one of Stills' more under-rated efforts to get another outing (he rushes through the second verse in a 'bluesy' way too which is rather nice). 'Chicago' sounds much like it will do on 'Four Way Street' just without the audience noise and Crosby harmonies (and an added tagline of 'help us make some more!' which doesn't fit the song at all but seems oddly appropriate given the circumstances). Finally the revelation of the set is a manic 'Love The One You're With', Stills clearly enjoying himself ('This is really a fun game!' he declares at the start) and playing more or less double time on a thrilling rendition of his best known solo song. Dare I say it I even prefer this raggedy version to the finished product, which is much more in keeping with the exuberance of the song (and once again shows off what a master of the acoustic guitar Stills was and is).
Overall, then, 'Demos' is a mixed bag. I'd much rather have heard the remaining set as part of something else - another outtakes set perhaps (see our article on 'the best unreleased CSNY songs' for just how much is available, even if a lot of it is songs played live and then discarded) or simply a longer collection of demos taking in all eras (some demos of the more polished 1977 and 1982 recordings would be fascinating). The fact that three of these demos came out on 'Voyage' just two years earlier steals a good third of this set's thunder and is bad news for Crosby fans. However there's still the cornerstone of a fascinating set laid down here, especially the Stills recordings which - coming on the back of his remarkable 'Just Roll Tape' of 1968 released shortly before, shows what a great year he was having that year. In other words this could have been a lot worse - but then again it could have been oh so much better!
Stephen Stills "Live At Shepherd's Bush"
(Rhino, October 2009)
Treetop Flyer/4+20/Johnny's Garden/Change Partners/Girl From The North Country/Blind Fiddler/Suite: Judy Blue Eyes/Isn't It About Time?/Rock and Roll Woman/The Wrong Thing To Do/Wounded World-Rocky Mountain Way/Bluebird/For What It's Worth/Love The One You're With
"I was tired of being poor, and I wasn't into selling door-to-door, and I worked like the devil to be more"
To date Stephen Stills has been featured on six official live CDs and box sets: two with CSN, two with CSNY and two on his own and yet still none of them quite reflect the Stills that fans desperately long to hear: the ragged and raw Springfield guitarist, the multi-lingual Manassas frontman and the career-crisis blues tour of the late 1970s (all, thank goodness, available on bootleg). 'Live At Shepherd's Bush' should have been 'the one' - it's the longest solo Stills release so far, features a half-acoustic half-electric show as in the days of old and features several songs either not often played or heard exclusively on this set. The acoustic half is particularly thrilling (it's the first 'official' acoustic CSN album since 'Stills Alone' in 1991 and the resulting three-way acoustic tour) and reunites Stills with his acoustic guitar - a relationship that goes together as well as Morecambe and Wise or Astaire and Rogers (or at least Crosby and Nash). That's 'should' because yet again this is sadly a recording of the wrong tour. Those who heard Stills' first acoustic tour (the one before this one) were riveted: Stills was hot for the first time in years and the performances and - best of all - chat about the creation about some of his greatest known recording electrifying. This concert is nice, has some terrific performances (especially a riveting performance of the Springfield's 'Rock and Roll Woman', unheard since 1968 and extended to six minutes!) and Stills remains one of the greatest guitar players around. The backing band also includes several old names from the 70s who are most welcome (including Joe Vitale and Kenny Passarelli). But like many a recent CSNY product, this one seems to have come along a shade too late, when Stills is once more drifting rather peaking, sounding a little half-baked compared to the easy brilliance of the golden years and while by no means an insult to Stills' great legacy doesn't exactly enhance it either.
In fact, this record is a similar experience to 'Stills Live' all round. The record is divided into 'acoustic' and 'electric' halves and even features the same random blues medley thrown into the middle of a song ('Rocky Mountain Way', bizarrely turning up in 'Wounded World') and a track listing that seems to steer clear from as much of the expected material as possible. The biggest difference, though, is how much more relaxed Stills sounds. The 1975 model was an anxious performer, unwilling to have much conversation with the crowd. The 2009 model just won't shut up, spinning off into story after story of how these songs were made and why. In fact the stories behind these performances are often more interesting than the recordings themselves with some priceless titbits from Stills who clearly feels at home in front of the English crowd (there are many mentions of his time in England, 'the best five years of my life', living in a house bought from Ringo Starr who in turn bought it from Peter Sellers!) Stills is a highly amiable companion, with his self-deprecating humour intact ('Get over yourself!' is his comment about his younger days of self-obsession which resulted in '4+20', a song Stills jokingly wants to update to '4+60'!')
The elephant in the room is that Stills can no longer sing like he once used to.
Years of heavy living have hardened that expressive voice into a croak - a highly expressive, highly emotive croak at that, but anyone unused to hearing Stills' voice gradually decline over the past decade will be in for a shock. The brilliance of this record is that it doesn't hide the fact: instead Stills adapts some of his earlier favourites to his huskier tones and returns particularly to the 'acoustic blues' style that always suited him so well anyway. As a result this record works a lot better than 'Man Alive' with all those extras that got in the way between Stills and 'us' and 'Wounded World' - the one song taken from that album - sounds much better here than on the record. The two 'new' covers fare especially well here: Dylan's 'Girl From The North Country' is a rather over-familiar choice but is in highly capable hands and Stills taps right into the song's folky simplicity; the more surprising choice of Tom Petty's 'The Wrong Thing To Do' may well be the best thing here, a moving update on the worried dad of 'Stills' giving advice on bad parenting, with Stills reflecting on his own troubled childhood ('I can totally relate!' he sighs at the beginning of the song). Most of Stills' earlier songs that demand a lighter tough ('Change Partners' '4+20' 'Johnny's Garden' 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes') sound horribly mangled compared to great days of old, with the biggest surprise how poor some harder-edged pieces like 'Isn't It About Time?' and 'Love The One You're With' sound - with Stills sounding centuries older than when he first sang these songs, not just 40 years. However a few songs do escape the problem, particularly the trilogy from the Springfield era: a deeper, bluesier 'For What It's Worth' is one of the better re-inventions of this song Stills has made down the years, while a simplified walking-paced 'Bluebird' suits the harder-edged roar it's given here and an edgier, harsher 'Rock and Roll Woman' - which used to be one of Stills' prettiest, poppier songs - defies all odds to become a heavy rocking blues thrash with a powerful four minute guitar solo that proves how much Stills still has to offer. Despite the title the 'old' Rock and Roll Woman' was a girl - in this version she's all grown up. Good on Stills, too, for throwing such oddities from his old back catalogue in instead of the usual suspects ('Carry On' 'Helplessly Hoping' 'Southern Cross' etc) while leaving just enough of the 'hits' here to please old-timers. Stills seems to have done his homework too, with this song replicating virtually nothing from his previous solo concert album 'Stephen Stills Live' (just 'Change Partners**) and as little as possible from CSNY's 'Four Way Street (again a mere 'Love The One You're With' and all of 30 seconds of 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes'). The result is yet another mixed live set but one with ore going for it than most.
(Atlantic, July 2012)
CD One: Carry On/Marrakesh Express/Long Time Gone/Military Madness/Southern Cross/Lay Me Down/Almost Gone/Wasted On The Way/Radio/Bluebird/Déjà Vu/Wooden Ships
CD Two: Helplessly Hoping/In Your Name/Girl From The North Country/As I Come Of Age/Guinevere/Johnny's Garden/So Begins The Task/Cathedral/Our House/Love The One You're With/For What It's Worth/Teach Your Children/Suite: Judy Blue Eyes
"There's something happening here - what it is ain't exactly clear"
Somehow the reunion between CSN and Atlantic should be more interesting than this. A rather ordinary live album, all too clearly released to fill in time between more interesting projects. Typically, this reunion wasn't planned: Stills was all set for buffalo Springfield tour before Neil Young called a halt; Crosby and Nash, due out on the road again as a duo (they'd toured across 2007/08) welcomed their pal back into the fold so that he didn't lose any money. That's nice - but this souvenir of the tour largely isn't. When heard back to back with, say 'Four Way Street' the results are disappointing: there's very little new here (just one rather flimsy Nash song and a song from Crosby's forthcoming CD), just a lot of the usual old songs re-done without much magic. The band are clearly not fully up to speed yet (who can blame them? They weren't expecting Stills to come along!) Stills' weakening voice means he keeps quite for much of the set, which is badly missing on CSN vocal firepower, although thank goodness his guitar-work is as strong as ever and the highlight of many a recording. There are a couple of lucky dips back into the olden days too, with 'So Begins The Task' (not heard live since the Manassas days) suiting Stills' older vocals and an angry ranting 'Military Madness' (the Iraq war going - still?!?) that suits Nash's. However seen as this set was intended to be (released merely as a DVD rather than a soundtrack album) it does work better, thanks to the between-song chat (largely missing from the CD) and the thrill of seeing Stills' fingers sparking away like mad on the guitar rather than just hearing them. To be honest, though, this is yet again a soundtrack recording of the wrong tour, when CSN weren't actually doing anything that interesting (where are the soundtrack to the acoustic tour of 1990/91 or the CSNY 2k tour of 2000?)
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