Monday, 9 February 2009
Crosby and Nash "Crosby*Nash" (2004) (Revised Review 2014)
Crosby*Nash” (David Crosby and Graham Nash, 2004)
"I hope you're coming with peace and good intentions..." or "The world's not as it seems - and it's changing every day!"or "I can't say we won the war - but I can say we survived..."
Crosby*Nash is one of those albums that seemed to fall through the radar, despite being something of a special occasion (the first Crosby-Nash album in 28 years! The only CSNY studio album of the 21st century featuring more than one billed member! The first CSNY double album to feature more than one member since 'Four Way Street'!) It’s a measure of how far CSN/Y have come in the public consciousness that – mixed as the reviews were – their latest (note: latest at the time of first writing this review back in 2009) ‘Déjà vu Live’ project (note: this got everybody talking about their name again and in the past four months of writing these newsletters barely a week has gone by without some mention of one of the four in the news somewhere. But back in 2004, back when George Bush was not only in office but was – shock horror – re-elected by a majority of American citizens and anything even vaguely resembling revolution and liberal ideas in music was frowned upon, the components of CSNY fared rather poorly. This album was in many ways the holy grail for CSN collectors, being the duo’s first joint album in a staggering 28 years, and yet it was almost ignored by the world at large and the few times that people did take notice the response wasn’t really very good at all.
When I bought this record from our much-missed CD chain ‘musiczone’ (which I view in the same way a drug addict eyes his dealers - my bank balance hates them but my soul flies to a new height every time I walk past) the guy at the counter told me to ‘put back that rubbish’ and buy the latest Neil Young opus ‘Greendale’ instead so that I could hear some ‘real’ and ‘relevant’ music (little did he know I’d already bought it and hated it! Ecologically-minded concept albums were never really Neil and Crazy Horse’s thing, but that’s another review for another time…) Me being me I then spent an hour arguing with him about how CSN are far more relevant to the 21st century than Neil's increasingly erratic solo albums and that in their day they were the most important band of all time: I would most likely still be there arguing now had the shops not shut and everyone go home. Because why should this album be so overlooked and the few times it wasn't actively laughed at? I don't get it: I can see why CSNY were out of vogue in the 1980s (when they were in poor health for all sorts of reasons, their music lost an age and just sounded 'wrong' in the 'me' decade) and a little in the 1990s (when the three 60s bands they came from were cool again to some extent but the band they turned into wasn't).
Rarely were CSN/Y seen as more adrift from their times than in 2004 and the puzzlement as to why this record of traditional singer-songwriter politically-minded semi-autobiographical fare ever made it to the shops is reflected in the sheer range of reviews for this album (it got a 4 star, 5 star and three 1 star reviews that I saw and all of them selected different tracks for praising and panning).In 2004 the world needed an album like this, a set which somehow manages to be angry whilst being mellow, nicely mixing the latest brand of cool (look as if you're trying as little as possible) while staying true to the CSNY principles of town criers telling the truth - because goodness knows there was enough corruption in the world . For a start 'Crosby*Nash' came out a few months after George Bush somehow squeaked back into office, on the back of a few false promises and an illegal war - the point at which many liberals and creatives began to fear for the fate of the world and as so often happens with these things turned to art as a protest when the political system 'failed' (that's 'failed' in the sense that the voters backed a Government invading a country on the basis of a faked document stolen wholesale from a university thesis despite there being no evidence of weapons of mass destruction - obviously democratically it 'worked' in the sense that Bush actually got more votes, unlike the first election...) This is the period of Michael Moore's 'Farenheit 911' film, increasingly public rallies and the period when a previously apathetic public now had lots of things to say about politics, on both sides of the fight. Still, like CSNY reunion 'Looking Forward' in 1999, this is album before it's time that in these post-déjà vu (can you have a post déjà vu? Well, you know what I mean…) concert-tour, post Obama days, this record makes more sense. It will never stand among CSN/Y’s better efforts and pales in comparisons to Crosby’s late 90s work with his side-band CPR, but it is still a consistent, challenging and above all melodic piece of work.
At first sight there are many reasons to be pleased and there are many things about this set that we'd been asking for from various members of CSNY for a long time. At 75 minutes is the second-longest piece of studio work in the whole of CSN/Y’s canon (Stephen Stills Manassas runs just a couple of minutes longer), making the recent CSN and CSNY reunion records, not to mention recent studio albums, look shockingly stingy. The album was recorded in sessions stretched across not four years, as per some CSNY records, but four weeks which gives this album a nicely loose edge. Expecting to record only the dozen or so highlights of the songs Crosby and Nash had been collecting for the past few years the duo ended up with over twenty finished tracks, including several songs that had been left un-recorded for decades, such as ‘Samurai’ and ‘The Other Side Of Town’ - CSNY fans everywhere breathed a sigh of relief when they found out that arguably the two most talked about CSNY songs of the past twenty odd years were finally going to get an official home (even if only one of them proved to be up to scratch). Alas, though, this short running time and the decision to record lots of songs rather than going back and perfecting the finished ones leads to trouble. Record label Sanctuary weren't expecting a full length album and insisted on making it a two-disc set that at first came out at a greater price than usual: a bad mark from fans right there (Atlantic had just released the longer 'Manassas' debut on a single CD and that lasted longer!) Special column guest Mr Technology (aka my calculator) says there should in fact be a full four minutes spare (and if this record did have to be a double record, couldn’t the two halves have been evened up, instead of containing 45 minutes on one disc and not quite 30 on the other?) The second problem is that there are simply too many tracks here that aren’t quite up to CSN/Y’s (admittedly ridiculously) high standards. I know from firsthand experience that if you sit a reviewer down with an album he doesn't much care for by a band he's never heard of/reckons is out of touch and then double it in length then you're not going to get a good review (don't worry chaps, I saved my scorn for The Spice Girls and Sugababes in my local paper reviewing days!) The result is another major milestone, at which Crosby-Nash (and by association the CSN family) have to deliver the perfect album to re-start their career, sign to a big label and take the world by storm - and instead it's another effort that's good, sometimes very good, but rarely great.
There’s something of an air of finality about this album, as if – now Crosby and Nash were reduced to working on one-album deals for fairly obscure record labels, with Stephen Stills seemed too poorly and Neil Young to big to call on their services again and Crosby’s latest batch of ill-health slowing him down further – they feared this might be their recorded swansong for their fans. Thank goodness, that didn’t turn out to be the case here, but that would explain the amount of 'old' unpublished songs that are brought out of the attic across this album. Unfortunately the fact that the older discarded material tended to be greater than most of the new songs didn't bode well either. Note too this album’s mixture of old and tested styles with the odd challenging experiment, plus a similar mix of old friends and new associates in the musician credits which suggest that Crosby and Nash planned this as a 'last hurrah' surrounded by friends, rather than a 'proper' stab at a career move. The upside of this is that, after a series of solo projects and CSNY full on reunions we finally get to hear Crosby and Nash collaborating again. Virtually all the tracks on this album feature the pair singing together, unlike even some of their 70s material, and the pair swap lead vocals on quite a few of the songs here, making this a ‘real’ joint/group effort for the first time in ages (much more so than 'Looking Forward' to be honest). Best of all, we get to hear what CPR might have sounded like if Nash had joined the group – Jeff Pevar remains the duo’s best semi-regular guitarist after Stills and Young and Crosby’s son James Raymond – given up for adoption when a penniless David was on the verge of joining the Byrds – adds a delicious third harmony part to the mix as well as writing two of the album’s better songs. The album is even produced by a mixture of the old and new – Russell Kunkel, drummer for the duo’s two studio albums in the mid-1970s and the corresponding tour, is joined in the producer’s chair by son Nathaniel, which perhaps explains this album’s curious mix of retro and modern production.
Lyrically the theme of this album is very much making the best of a bad job and carrying on - a theme that appears via love songs, world politics and notably more 'fictional' characters and 'story' songs than normal (Crosby, perhaps tired of writing about his own life and pouring out his heart on the two CPR albums, especially writes about the life he imagines for a waitress, a Samauri, a meditating chap called Charlie). All these characters seem to live in something of a daze, their actions out of their hands, from the father offering his new born baby over for an injection his infant son doesn't understand and thinks is a betrayal, the simpleton politics of 'Charlie' (who may be more 'right' than people realise) and the tired waitress in a run-down job still passing on kindness through the way she handles her spoons (seriously - Crosby was impressed with a waitresses' attention to everybody in a drive-in restaurant he went to one day and thought she deserved a song despite never learning her name). The world is bigger than the individual, that's the message of this album, and the strings of a few make people all follow suit - but it doesn't have to be this way. Like every CSNY record since the first, it's up to the people to fight back against crooks, conmen, wicked politicians and soldiers sent to shoot the innocent. The trouble is this is a bigger war with deception on a grander scale than Vietnam and without the backdrop of the 1960s no one else is out there shouting 'no!' As a result this album has the same arguments Crosby and Nash have long argued, but feels as if it lacks the conviction somehow and perhaps even more importantly the hope that made past recordings such a joy and pleasure to listen to. Back in 1970 CSNY thought they and their fans could change the world and save it from evil; by 2004 they know in their heart of hearts that they can't, but they keep on trying anyway because, well, somebody has to stand and be counted.
There's also the theme of things not being quite the way they seem, of strings being pulled behind the scenes and of the wool being pulled over our eyes, leaving Crosby and Nash two lonely figures shouting the truth out to people not listening (what do you know? 2004 was the year of the monkey in Chinese astrology and is traditionally full of exactly that in world politics). 'Puppeteer' 'Don't Dig Here' 'Half Your Angels' 'Luck Dragon' 'On The Other Side Of Town' 'Penguin In A Palm Tree'...even the titles of some of these songs sound like someone knows what'[s going on and the narrators are caught on the wrong end of it. Nash in particular has a right go at the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars (and rightly so...) on 'Live On (The Wall)' (where he movingly stands in front of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and wonders how many names will be on the one they'll build for this new and similarly out of control war that nobody wants) and 'Half Your Angels'(where he pleads to the world that 'we're running out of time...asking your heart to forgive this evil'. Crosby, meanwhile, focuses on the greed and corruption of modern America, attacking energy syndicate Enron and the scandal that saw the biggest single case of fraud in American history wiping out the wages of employees and shares of shareholders in one go. The three cornerstones of the album, everything else sounds like filler material to flesh out these three songs - although they aren't necessarily the best things here, just the most time-sensitive and 'important'.
Like the good old days, there's a fire and rage at the heart of this album's that's like CSNY of the past. Unfortunately the music doesn't always follow suit. There are probably more ballads on this album than probably any other single CSNY album in their entire canon (although Neil's recent 'Storytone' set comes close). Worse than that, there isn't a single full-on rocker, with the faster, 'heavier' songs tending to come from cursing finger-wagging rather than raging scream. Any newcomers to this record who didn't know about 'Ohio' 'Long Time Gone' 'Military Madness' or 'Carry On' must have assumed that Crosby and Nash were two folkies who never 'got' rock, which is a travesty. The album sounds on the surface as if it's light, which is a tragedy given how 'heavy' a good half of the album's lyrics actually are. The duo might have got away with this had this record been normal length - instead it palls over twenty rather similar sounding songs. The sheer amount of collaborations across this record is also depressing - long gone are the days when Crosby and Nash could write a whole album just between the pair of them. James Raymond naturally crops up a lot, even writing with Nash rather than his dad on 'Don't Dig Here', which at times makes this record sound more like a CPR set with Nash added (not that this is a bad thing; it's actually quite interesting to hear Raymond writing away from his parent band - in all meanings of the word - where his work is less emotional and also less jazzy). However elsewhere we get a whole shopping list of co-writers: Spencer Proffer (Nash weirdly writing 'Live On' with ex-Hollie Allan Clarke's old writing partner - I wonder if he knew?!), Dean Parks, Jeff Pevar, Marc Cohn, Patrick Flannery, Steve Plunkett, the jingoistic American who first wrote 'My Country 'Tis Of Thee'...no wonder that at times this album seems to be lacking a little, well Crosby-Nashness. their vision sometimes lost in the crowd (it doesn't help that both men have just undertaken albums in 2001 and 2002 and used up a lot of their material: a Crosby-Nash album combining the best of 'Just Like Gravity' and 'Songs For Survivors' plus the best of this set would have been something to behold...)
All that said, 'Crosby*Nash' more than deserves it's place in the canon. The better songs - James Raymond's pair of songs in 'Lay Me Down' and 'Puppeteer', plus 'Live On (The Wall)' 'Half Your Angels', the poignant tribute to mutual friend 'Michael (Hedges Here)' , Marc Cohn cover 'I Surrender' and 1970s leftover 'On The Other Side Of Town' - are all special songs, well written sensitively handled and nicely recorded without the 'gimmicks' of a lot of the 1990s CSN projects (the 'modern' sound of 'American Dream' and 'Live It Up' and the piecemeal approach of 'Looking Forward'). There's a nicely laidback feel about this album that makes it sound more thought out than either of the last two CSN/Y projects, even though ironically enough it was this longer album that was recorded in a shorter space of time. Nash is beginning to creak ever so slightly, although he still sounds gorgeous wrapped around Crosby's harmonies, while Croz himself - against all the odds and after a lifetime that makes Napoleon's look like a gentle stroll - still sounds majestic. There's a very welcome chance to hear two songs we never thought we'd get to hear in 'Samuari' and 'On The Other Side Of Town' (two songs from 1979 and abandoned as part of Crosby's aborted solo album for Columbia and Nash's 'Earth and Sky' record respectively). In the long run this album might not compare to the first two Crosby-Nash records and at best is only on a par with disappointing third record 'Whistling Down The Wire', but the fact that it's here at all is a reason for celebration, Crosby and Nash not having to fit their sound round errant colleagues added partway through, modern synthesisers or major health problems for once. Unfortunately this album came out at just the wrong time, a year too early to do the good it should have done, Crosby and Nash coming at the end of a 'we should support our president' drive rather than the start of a Bush backlash that grew and grew as 2004 went on. Like the flower on the cover, this album only came into bloom later, when the rest of the world caught up, it's seeds still blowing round the world somewhere ready to be re-discovered by some musical historian somewhere who'll see it as a pioneering work. 'Crosby*Nash' isn't quite that - few pioneering works are this slow, this uneven and this full of ballads - but I still say this album proved everything I was trying to point out in my argument with the shop assistant when buying this album: the world needed Crosby-Nash in 2004, musicians who'd been around, knew when they were being lied to and weren't afraid to take a stand and this is the single best CSNY record of the 21st century so far (not that there's much competition!) Even though this isn't perhaps the best stand they ever took I'd still take it over Sun Green and her flipping Grandpa and her boring town of Greendale any day.
Note: Sanctuary, rather sensibly, re-issued this album as a single disc in 2006: yay! Alas they decided to release simply a 13-track 'highlights' set with a slightly blue-tinted cover. This is hardly my ideas of the highlights of the record so be warned (for the record the tracklisting on this version is: Lay Me Down/Milky Way Tonight/Don't Dig Here/Penguin In A Palm Tree/I Surrender/Through Here Quite Often/They Want It All/Puppeteer/Live On (The Wall)/Grace/ Jesus Of Rio/How Does It Shine?/My Country 'Tis Of Thee). While I can live without 'Samauri' 'Charlie' 'Shining On Your Dreams' and 'Luck Dragon' the other missing three songs are actually the best on the record - 'On The Other Side Of Town' 'Half Your Angels' and 'Michael (Hedges Here)'. How many other Crosby-Nash classics were left on the shelf because the record company only wanted 'highlights' from the sessions I wonder...
The record starts with two of the more impressive songs, both written by Crosby's son James Raymond, who was really coming into his own since the second CPR album 'Just Like Gravity' when his dad fell into something of a writing slump. Interestingly both of Raymond's songs are amongst the most naturally Crosby-Nash like of the whole record.  'Lay Me Down' was even quite a big radio hit in the UK although – as far as I know – was never released by Sanctuary as a single (more fool them!) Perhaps because of their CSN-like ethereal beauty these two tracks were also curiously chosen to open the album, meaning that Nash doesn’t get a writing credit until track five of his own CD! ‘Lay Me Down’ especially has some classic Crosby-like imagery, including the windmills that refuse to blow on a windy day and act as a metaphor for the muse of writers everywhere (only some of them are ‘still’, just in case we get the wrong idea about age and invention on this record) and the idea that only in death will the narrator find his true whole self once more. It's a pretty song with a nice lead from Crosby and some classy double-tracked harmonies and an acoustic riff that sounds like a speeded up version of 'Carry Me'.
Raymond's  ‘Puppeteer’ is a darker song, more like the militant Crosby-Nash of old but less specific, with an un-named villain pulling our strings to keep us in line. In time-honoured CSN tradition we’re told that it's our right to lead a fulfilled and contented life – but the people in charge respect power too much to let that happen. The golden frontier is not so elusive if we all stand together – most critics hated this kind of message in 2004 but in 2009, what with a new comparatively liberal president and all, it doesn’t seem quite so daft anymore. The mood is nicely tense compared to the rest of the album, sounding like the calm after a storm to quote a phrase, before a rather odd chorus drags us kicking and screaming to a nastier place ('Pull over to the shoulder!' Crosby and Nash sing, as if in the back of a taxi). Overall, though, this is another impressive song with first Nash then Crosby at their vocal best on alternating verses.
Elsewhere on the record we get Crosby recognising the simple kindness of a waitress who – if I’ve judged this song right – seemed to be serving Raymond’s daughter (and Cros’ grand-daughter) with more care and attention than their surroundings would suggest. Like many Crosby songs,  ‘Through Here Quite Often’ combines unusual jazz-like tunings with the more traditional pop song template, giving the song a lazy, breezy feel. We also get the latest addition to Crosby’s understanding-the-world-theme that runs throughout the whole of his work – the narrator learns about life by ‘talking to strangers’, a definite no-no in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and suspicion against all people everywhere, finding that on his own the author is trapped ‘in a world without wisdom, a life without laughs’. The song can’t quite manage the depth or honesty of other modern Crosby songs like ‘Rusty and Blue’ or the sublime ‘Time Is The Final Currency’, but its still a welcome addition to the Crosby canon with a rather graceful glide.
Talking of which,  'Grace' is a 45 second piano instrumental by Raymond, presumably written for his new born daughter. It fits in quite naturally from the last track, full of sweeping jazzy chords and a sort of laidback feeling of beauty, but it's not really complete enough to be a track in it's own right and either needs to be longer or treated as a part of 'Through Here Quite Often'. Still, the wordplay after Crosby sings about a different kind of 'quiet grace' makes for a clever link!
Nash also gains several new, important additions to his canon.  ‘Jesus of Rio’, co-written with Jeff Pevar, is the first of these on the record and is a curious song for Graham. A song about Pope John Paul II, with plenty of talk about the poor-rich divide he presided over, this song at first appears to a typically sympathetic Nash track about the haves and have-nots of this world. On closer inspection, however, this song is more like Nash’s upbeat, hopeful works as - like ‘Teach Your Children’ – the genuine, caring people of the world really do have an impact and the future isn’t as gloomy as its often pointed out to be. There’s a classic Nash line too with the idea that ‘every human is holy to someone’ and that each of us is a force for good on behalf of somebody in our lives and that we all have the power to put things right for humanity, if only on a smaller scale. Rather than attacking organised religion for its faults and the divisions it causes, as Nash does on the superlative ‘Cathedral’ among other songs, Graham sees religious leaders as a symbol for good here and one that could reunite people and give them comfort if only the institution worked properly. One of Graham's better songs on the album.
Nash also takes lead vocal on a cover of Marc Cohen’s  ‘I Surrender’, which surprised me a great deal when I first heard this album. Crosby and Nash have both championed Cohen’s efforts in the past, unsurprisingly in the former’s case given Cohen’s similar jazzy chord changes and emotional style, but the few songs of Marc’s that I know – including Crosby’s cover of ‘Old Soldier’ on his ‘Thousand Roads album – seemed soppy and sentimental, without the added bite of most Crosby-Nash songs, despite what their more negative critics usually seem to think. Reading the lyric booklet didn’t help matters much either – a simple tale of giving in to somebody’s charms and being sure of another’s love is nicely put but is nevertheless standard fare. Yet recording-wise this is one of the best tracks on the album. Nash’s voice sounds strangely old and frail on this track (he’s as lively as ever on the rest of the album) and brings a certain gravitas to this simple song which, with its gorgeous flowing melody and delightfully smothering feel is the perfect accompaniment to the lyric. The song is a ballad, but its not a soppy one melody-wise by any means – there’s a definite edge to this song, with Nash singing of ‘trying to keep his heart protected’ because he’s afraid of being hurt again, only to realise that love never follows rules. The desperation for this latest lover not to let him down is also very moving, with Nash’s vocal and Crosby’s equally sensitive harmony part adding several dimensions to the song. Most ‘cover’ songs on CSN albums are wastes of space when you already have so much talent in one band/ duo/ solo singer (even Lennon/McCartney CSN covers pale and ordinary by comparison to CSN singing strong CSN material), but ‘I Surrender’ is a lovely song and beautifully cast for this album.
Elsewhere we get more average fare than usual on a CSN/Y album, with more fair to middling material than strong songs here (although there’s still more good songs per album total than on the disappointing ‘American Dream’ or ‘Looking Forward’, despite their much shorter running time). One of the worst offenders is  ‘Luck Dragon’, the worst song from Crosby and Raymond to date (note: this review was written before the 'Croz' album - I've since changed my mind!) although it still has a driving melody to go with its confusing lyrics about a revolution doomed to failure through the suspicion of those leading it. I was hoping for a piece about Falkor, the pink 'luck dragon' from the Neverending Story, which would have made for as wonderfully vivid Crosby song about the power of imagination at your lowest point and fiction rescuing souls trapped in a mundane world (what say we petition for his next band to be called 'Atreyu'?!) - but instead the song is another Crosby piece about the randomness of life and not as sharp as most Crosby songs on a similar theme.
 ‘On The Other Side Of Town’ is a Nash song that dates from the late 70s and would have been a fine addition to ‘Earth and Sky’, what with its tale of Graham’s young family and a brooding edge mixing with the sentimentality and love in the song. And yes, it is about one of Nash’s children – its about how Graham had to take him to the hospital for his first injection as a baby and the look of betrayal and hurt in his child’s eyes when the needled went into his skin. Most people I play this song to don’t like it at all because they don’t understand it and graham seems to have made it deliberately obscure, but once you know the story this song makes perfect sense. Nash often gets a bad press for sticking to his ‘ballad formula’ from critics who seem to have cotton wool in their eyes and here’s a perfect demonstration of how deep some of Nash’s songs can be. As the listener is never told that this song is about a child, they naturally assumer that the song is about a lover until the line about being ‘naked on a table in the arms of another woman’ and the narrator’s response to his offspring’s cold betrayed stare that ‘I wouldn’t hurt you for the world’. For the first time since ‘Cathedral’, Nash separates the song into two parts, with his emotion and love for his baby in the peaceful verse section washed away by the nasty, oppressive atmosphere of the decaying hospital. A strong candidate for the best song on the album, what other 30-year-old unreleased treats does Graham have ins tore for us on the forthcoming Nash box-set?!? If they’re as good as this song I can’t wait!
 ‘Half Your Angels’ is a Nash song that I've changed my mind about considerably since this album came out. Making it through to my mp3 player collection of 'favourites' by the skin of it's teeth in 2004, it's since become one of my favourite of Nash's recent songs. Spooky and intense, the opposite of so many of the rather more surface songs on the album, this track is played largely on one note and really suits Nash's fading older voice. Lyrically it's about the idea that each of us have a series of angels in heaven looking out for each of us – and the narrator’s plea with half of his angels to go and protect his loved one and give her extra strength in a time of crisis. The song sounds deeply impressive when played out of context, with its slow steel-shutter synthesisers and unusual, almost atonal Crosby-Nash harmonies doing a fair impression of other-worldliness. This is also the closest Nash has come to singing about 'the end of the world' since his 'Innocent Eyes' album of 1986, recorded at the peak of the cold war, desperately trying to find it in himself to 'forgive this evil' and finding he can't, angrily asking 'why would anyone hurt God's children?' Nash clearly has the inhabitants of Iraq and Afghanistan in mind, pawns tied up in the knot of a war neither they nor he quite understands.
 ‘They Want It All’ is another song from this album I've softened towards, although it's fair to say that most critics who picked out this track as evidence of 'hippie stupidity' had a slight point. Sounding a little like 'Night-time For The Generals' but rather less intense, this is Crosby sloganeering at its worst, although the target of David’s wrath – Enron and other corrupt companies using Government knowledge and tax-payer’s money to make dodgy business dealings – is a worthy one. But the chorus of ‘they want it all, they want it now, they want to get it and they don’t care how’ can’t compete with earlier cries from the heart like ‘To the Last Whale’ and ‘Long Time Gone’ and it's frustrating to hear a talent of Crosby’s level reduced to repeating this chorus for a fifth time in a fairly short song. Even here, though, the performance is strong enough to just about rescue the song, with Crosby’s ad libs and the rocky band interplay on the fade covering up the composition’s cracks. There's also a nice return to the album themes of people getting away with stuff by papering over the cracks, the Crosby who once interrupted the Monterey Pop festival to talk about how the 'puppetmasters' murdered JFK alive and well on the line 'they always have a president or two'.
Crosby’s other best song on the album is  ‘How Does It Shine?’ the first wordless but vocal-led instrumental from David since ‘Dancer’ in 1976. Like that song, ‘Tree With No Leaves’, ‘Tampalpais High’ and ‘Critical Mass’, the combination of scat singing and jazzy chord changes is a delight, challenging all our pre-conceived ideas about what a song should be and still getting plenty of emotion through via the melody despite the lack of words. The mood of this track is upbeat too, in comparison to the generally ‘down’ feeling of many of Crosby’s instrumentals or near-instrumentals. Like the album’s other instrumental, ‘Grace’ – written by Raymond – this song sounds as if it is bursting full of fatherly pride, though whether this is actually about Crosby’s son Django, Raymond’s daughter Grace, a combination of the two or neither is unclear.
The worst song, though, is  ‘Don’t Dig Here’, a curious lapse considering it was made by the team behind some of the most successful ecological pleas of the 70s. Inspired by news coverage of a competition held to decide the name of a new radioactive landfill site and what to put on the signpost above it (a strangely upbeat and enthusiastic article having read it too many moons ago), Raymond read that one of the entries had stated simply ‘don’t dig here’. Crosby ups the tempo a little by adding some welcome scat singing and hollering his vocal at the top of his lungs, but the words are clunky and really don’t fit the metre of the melody-line they’ve been provided with (sample lyric: 'This place is full of shit that kills - maybe us, maybe you - it's true', all too obviously written around the not-that-great stop-starty style of the melody). A close cousin of ‘Yours and Mine’ from ‘Live It Up’, this is a song that was written and re-written several times to get it right – and the end result has lost much of the inspiration that created it in the first place. Again, this is a song that saves its worst and most obvious lines for the chorus – and then seems determine to make the worst part of the song stick in our heads by repeating it three times.
 ‘Milky Way Tonight’ is Nash’s equivalent, a song that mines all of Nash’s past successes and styles without really adding anything new (although some of the lyrics are nice, with the 'echoes of our past from the years gone by so fast' a nice summation of all that has changed for CSN across 35 hard years of campaigning). The tune, though, is irritating and sounds more like the early flop Hollies singles than Nash’s later, maturer self (or The Hollies’ later, maturer selves for that matter). For instance, we never find out quite what seeing the milky way means for Nash's narrator - is he lovestruck? In awe at mankind's smallness? Who knows - all we get is the cryptic line that's effectively the motto of the album, that 'the world's not what it seems and it's changing every day'.
 'Charlie' is also pretty rotten, Crosby on autopilot (this second disc isn't anything like as good as the first it has to be said). Charlie is a bit of a simpleton who likes to meditate and while everyone else thinks he's an idiot and ignores him he's actually receiving profound wisdom 'from a higher plane'. More surreal than usual for Crosby, even during the depth of his drug addiction, this song includes lines like 'Charlie was great wet kiss on the face of time' and 'Charlie was a cloud layer' that leave me rather scratching my head. There's a nice 'Deja Vu' feeling about the backing of this song, with some echo-drenched keyboard parts, but alas the faintly promising verses are always being swept aside for a painfully trite chorus line. Crosby's worst song for a very long time, even if the line about being a 'long distance runner in the human race' is worth a chuckle.
Similarly Nash's  'Penguin In A Palm Tree' is his most surreal song (what were they smoking while they were making this album?!) A song about feeling lost and out of place, it as least pretty and sports a rather good Crosby-Nash harmony part on the chorus as Nash pleads, 'Where Will I Be?' style 'is there something wrong with me?' Nash, presumably, was partly writing about his adopted home in Hawaii ('I'm here in Lahaina'...) and perhaps his feelings as an Englishman and part outsider to the American way of life (it speaks volumes that he didn't live on part of the USA's mainland, with Crosby, but 'another' island). It's nice to hear a bit of a sequel to 'Black Notes' too as Nash declares 'I've got nothing to say - my music says it for me and I try and make it every day'. However Nash's gusto lead vocal is more something patronising children's entertainers put on when singing to children who won't sit still and you can feel your heart sink every time the much-repeated chorus comes around (with everyone only seen as 'the tip of the iceberg' - funnily enough a song that The Hollies beat him to, having recorded a song of the same name and on a similar theme as far back as 1976!)
So far the album has dropped a level or three, but faith is restored with the gorgeous  'Michael (Hedges Here)', a heartfelt Nash tribute to old friend and guitarist Michael Hedges who died in a car accident in 1997. Hedges, co-writer of classic CSN song 'Arrows' with Crosby in 1990, was well loved by both men for his enthusiasm and no-nonsense persona and, as with many larger-than-lie characters, their first response of his sudden accident was 'don't be silly - a man like that can't die!' Using the distinctive way Michael used to answer the phone as a starting point ('Hedges here!'), Nash somehow finds a way of putting into words how he feels about his friend and what he wished he'd said when he was alive. Originally recorded by Nash solo (as heard on his box set 'Reflections' of 2009), this re-recording is a joint effort with Crosby taking the second verse and adding some lovely ghostly harmonies. The theme of the song is that anyone who creates music can never really die and will always be remembered, 'the sound of your guitar playing on and on, playing on and on...' There's even a snatch of Hedges' distinctive jagged guitar style over the finale, played here by Jeff Pevar.
Crosby's  'Samauri' has been around since the late 1970s when Crosby intended it as the centrepiece of his aborted solo album for Columbia (even though he'd written it to sing with Nash). An a capella song without any real structure, it's clearly from the same inner voice as 'I'd Swear There Was Somebody There'. This time, however, Crosby's unconscious has written about his drug problem and fading abilities, making it more at one with 'Delta' and 'Shadow Captain', Crosby a Samurai soldier whose lost his way but refuses to keep fighting. The song has him 'tilting at windmills' (refusing the 'wind' of inspiration and creativity perhaps? Crosby would have known the 'wind metaphor well as a keen sailor), a' misfit in this century' and 'looking for a living to be proud of'. Note too the references to 'salmon jumping upstream', going against the tide - this image will return on the first post-drugs song Crosby writes in prison (the extraordinary 'Compass'). Legend has it that Crosby and Nash also recorded a version for the 'Live It Up' LP back when it was intended as a 'joint' record; fans have been asking for it ever since although to be honest it's a bit of a let down, far too contrived and missing Crosby's usual inherent musicalness. A better version, taped by a clearly weary Crosby in 1979, is much more in keeping with the song's spirit although even that isn't as great a recording as 'Samurai' is often said to be, an experiment too far whose unhappy feeling puts it at odds with most of this album.
At least 'Samurai' tried to break a few barriers though -  'Shining On Your Dreams' is so typically Nash that it could have appeared on any Hollies, solo or CSN record and no fan would have batted an eyelid. Alas we've heard it all so many times: the moon shines through Nash's open curtains, a beacon of hope that enthuses him out of his gloom and ready for whatever life will throw at him. The most interesting part of the song is undoubtedly the chorus where Nash treats us to a family saying: 'Home is where the heart is, mama used to say, no matter where you roam'. Nash never recounts where he is when he writes/narrates this song but I would bet he's in a hotel room somewhere 'finding my way back home'. He still hasn't learnt to play the harmonica, either, despite the leap forward in his playing across 'After The Storm!'
Nash does have one last great composition on the album, though, in the shape of  ‘Live On (The Wall)’. Like many of Nash’s war-related songs, this isn’t a nasty how-dare-you-keep-fighting-in-my-name slab of vitriol, but a desperate lament for those who lost their lives fighting for the better world that those of us left behind never actually saw. Nash first and foremost admires war heroes in all of his war-related songs, from Oh Camil! (The Winter Soldier) to the soldiers of Peace who still ‘look for enemies behind every wall’. In this song Nash is inspired not by a surviving war veteran but the list of names on a memorial wall (presumably the Vietnam Veterans Wall in Washington, erected in 1982). The links between then and now (well, 2004) are profound: the soldiers sent off to battle 'in a winless war' and sent in 'because I guess somebody lied'. Opening with the stark ‘I can’t say we won the war, but I can say we survived’, Nash opens this song up to all of those of his generation – and after – who came through the failed promises of Watergate, Vietnam, the Iraq War and all of the other atrocities fought after the first and second world war, both of the ‘war to end all wars’ that instead seemed to kick-start another fifty odd years of infighting and world instability. Nash turns his wrath not against the soldiers following orders but the politicians who sent them, often knowingly to their deaths, the monkeys before lions never mind donkeys, up to tricks by making people fight for totally erroneous causes. Nash then eases the tension with the reminder that their names will ‘live on’ even if they do not. A stunning tour de force for Crosby and Nash’s spookily close harmonies, this was a welcome addition to the pair's short tour of 2006 (where this song, along with 'They Want It All', was the only track from this album performed and brought the house down) and the Déjà vu live concerts, even if it was annoyingly cut from the documentary film and soundtrack album. The closest thing this record has to a masterpiece, it's Nash back to what he's always done best: challenging the world, shaking it to it's foundations and then soothing us with the thought that it's all going to turn out right.
Back in 1989 Crosby got a lot of flack for including his first arrangement of [313b] 'My Country 'Tis Of Thee' on his 'comeback' album 'Oh Yes I Can!' Reviewers were puzzled why a rebel as famous and angry as Crosby could ever sound so traditionalist, but I've always understood the distinction: love of your country and it's ideals doesn't mean you have to love it's leaders or agree everything it says. I've often felt that CSNY and the sixties generation in particular were a lot closer to the spirit of the constitution and American Dream' than Nixon and his cronies - the same goes for either Bush. Whereas the 1989 version was slow and stately, with Nash joining in only on the chorus, this version is slightly more rushed with Crosby audibly older but still with a smile in his voice. Nash sings much earlier on this version, from the 'Land where my fathers dies...' line, the pair extending the song with a lovely repeat of 'let it ring...' after the idea of freedom ringing out across the land, to a series of Stills-like guitar pings. It's not the most original ending - and the 1989 version is slightly the better - but it's a neat reminder that while the world was going to hell, largely because of American intervention, Crosby and Nash weren't prepared to reject everything about their home/adopted home just yet.
So, overall then, there are quite a few weak tracks here - especially on the second CD which I don't play as often as the first - but even if there are plenty of things to moan about there is simply so much material here that there’s nothing a quick edit down to 60 minutes couldn’t solve. The fact that Crosby and Nash can still deliver work of this standard when distinctly out of fashion, out of time and out of contract still shows what a talented duo they are and even if the album pales by comparison to the pairing’s 70s work – well, nobody else has caught up with what Crosby and Nash were doing 30 years ago so its no surprise that they can’t always re-create it to demand. Above all, this set bodes well for us by both breaking the silence of the pair’s joint efforts and by bringing political and ecological causes to our attention that, once frowned upon and challenged, are now accepted as being right. The next Crosby-Nash/ CSN anything promises to be great given that their work is back to being praised again and this album is a vital stepping stone in the right direction. Let freedom ring, let CSNY sing...