CATHEDRALS, SONGS AND NABS (CSN)

Funny how bits of music-related fluff stick in the old bonce. Something passes through the cranium and waves a vague kind of greeting to the odd neurone or two, quickly fading into obscurity like the second Kajagoogoo single. Then, when you’re having a pleasant browse through the racks of your favourite recorded music emporium, this long-forgotten tidbit bursts into consciousness like a flower bud responding to the rites of Spring.

Happened to your correspondent just the other day. Having done the vinyl and extracted but one twelve-incher, I was flipping through the compact discs in a fairly haphazard way, rather like a bee with half-full whatsit buzzing between flowery letters hoping for a dollop of the good stuff… do the Ps and Qs, totter over to the Es… Ah, here’s an Eno album I only have a burn of; tuck that under the wing… here we are in the Ks… you get the idea.

As I tick-tacked through the Cs, noting with an odd kind of smug disappointment that every title of interest was already filed at Vinyl Connection Headquarters, under my flipping finger appeared the second Crosby Stills and Nash album, the come-together reunions-R-us one from 1977. Well of course I have a vinyl copy, and as there are strenuous efforts being made to reduce the incidence of re-buying titles pre-existing in the collection, you might reasonably conclude that I just kept on buzzing. Except…

Something stirred in the grey matter, a faint but insistent tapping like a tiny bird pecking at the inside of its eggy prison, seeking the light of day and whatnot. Way back in the back pages of Vinyl Connection, a well-informed reader had commented on a post about alternate covers of albums, sharing that there were two versions of this CSN opus, one with a serious photo and one with a happy one. The latter version, this helpful commenter commented, was requested by the record company because they thought the three amigos looked all-together too maudlin on the original version. Here it is to refresh your memory.

Are they downcast? Almost tearful? Don’t see it any quivering upper lips, myself. Sure, all is not jocularity and falling about laughing, but it seems to me their demeanour befits three musicians all at sea. If you fell about laughing, you might well up too closely connected with the wide blue watery stuff, mightn’t you? Anyway, another cover was ordered by the Head Honchos at Atlantic and a new Joel Bernstein snap was duly affixed to the next batch of LPs. Off they went, touring and selling a goodly number of records along the briny way. And very cheerful they look too.

As indeed was your correspondent, nabbing a CD copy of the happy-chappy cover and tucking it firmly under the other wing to balance Mr Eno.

Now although I have not spun CSN in at least fifteen years, I reckoned much of the music was still welded into the trusty cerebrum, just waiting to be dusted off and sung along to. And that’s just what I did, jumping into the VC jalopy and thrusting the little silver disc into our in-flight entertainment system.

By the time I pulled into Chez Connection forty-five minutes later I was pink-cheeked from singing along and flushed with the knowledge that this really is a fine singer-songwriter album. I mean, with three of the blighters contributing ditties you are pretty sure of getting some of the good stuff, aren’t you?

I like the opening “Shadow Captain” very much. There’s a gentle propulsion to David Crosby and Craig Doerge’s melody underpinned by great drumming from Russ Kunkel and Joe Vitale’s organ comping. Steve Stills is up next, “See the changes” boasting some trademark CSN harmonies—the voices really are where it’s at with these lads. A pleasant enough tune from Graham Nash leads into a bit of rocking and rolling as Stills vents his spleen about a (presumably) failed affair in “Fair game”.

Crosby is sometimes a bit formless and undisciplined for me, but his “Anything at all” works very well indeed. There’s some low-key self-mocking that is quite endearing:

You see just beneath the surface of the mud,

There’s more mud here…

Surprise.

The side closes with one of Nash’s best post-Hollies songs. A big claim, I know, but listen to “Cathedral” and you quickly realise he’s painting a bigger canvas than his normal girl-I-love-to-bits postcards. A simple yet dramatic arrangement with changes of pace and texture supports a lyric of agnostic epiphany for Graham as he visits Winchester Cathedral and finds he is not in the right place. Good on him, I say. And good on Marty at snakesinthegrass for mentioning this song recently, thus adding a couple of extra milliamps to the memory board.

“Dark star” opens proceedings strongly on the second side; Steve Stills is in great form on this album. And after a throwaway from Nash (who does tend towards the self-absorbed), he’s back again with “Run from tears”, a slow groove where Stills world-weary voice is lifted by Nash and Crosby’s upper register vocals. Stills’ guitar is great too.

If you focus on the beautiful harmonies rather than the self-pity, Nash’s “Cold rain” passes pleasantly enough, leading into an acoustic Crosby song that starts gently but powers up with a catchy refrain. Fittingly, Stills has the last word with “I give you give blind”, a driving song that finishes the album on a powerful note.

Overall, a strong LP for those who like this west coast sound. When I glanced in the rearview mirror and caught a glimpse of my own face, it certainly resembled the ‘happy’ picture on the cover of CSN. Very glad I nabbed it.

Wonder what else I can pull out that hasn’t seen the light of day for a few decades?

Editor’s Note: Apologies for the prose. The writer is currently in thrall to PG Wodehouse. Again.

 

34 comments

  1. Hey there, am I by any chance “the well-informed reader [who] commented…about alternate covers of [the] albums, sharing that there were two versions of this CSN opus, one with a serious photo and one with a happy one…?”

    I LOVE this album, with ‘Shadow Captain’ (love the ‘pow, pow, pow’ of the last three chords), ‘Cold Rain’ (‘haven’t I seen you somewhere before..?’) and ‘Cathedral’ (for which I did my own post!) being the highlights…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was 95% sure you were indeed the well-informed reader, JDB, but for the life of me I couldn’t find the comments thread, so I played safe to avoid litigation. But more than happy to give you your dues. 🙂

      Like

    2. Hey J, could you post a link to your ‘Cathedral’ into the Comments? (The new-look Augenblick doesn’t seem to have a search function).

      Like

  2. It’s always great to rediscover old favourites, I’m glad this one pleased you (different cover and all)!

    Also, I totally know the dilemma of seeing an album on LP and wanting it and knowing it’s already on LP at home… that hard-earned could get new stuff instead of repeats, but…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. But we don’t… 😄😞

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I KNOW! \m/ 🙂 \m/

        Liked by 2 people

  3. I feel like this one’s about as good as you could hope for from a CSN album in 1977.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Possibly even slightly better!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. “The old bonce”???!!!
    Blog suspended for usage of archaic vernacular!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Bounced after a dozen words. Curses! Drat! Confound you Whelk! etc.

      (Is it possible you didn’t make it as far as the Editor’s Note at the end?)

      Liked by 1 person

  5. wow! this was quite one to dust off -0 I’ve added it to my collection – always loved “Dark Star” – my favorite of their latter work – but the album itself is really cool – thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Cheers Douglas. I was a little surprised to find myself reacting so positively too!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. The version in my household growing up (don’t recall if it was my album or belonged to one of my brothers) was the “sad” picture. Now I’m a fairly depressing guy sometimes, not one to walk around smiling all the time, but to me, in that photo, the guy look down right happy. Content. At peace. The start of your essay was reminiscent of the storytelling of Alex in A Clockwork Orange. Another great lover of music. Intentional?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Like you, I was surprised to read the story at Augenblick (JDB’s post, link above). They never seemed unhappy to me, just in the seafaring moment.

      As for the style, thanks for noticing it, first of all. I was actually trying to channel PG Wodehouse, between the wars British comic novelist, who I love but I suspect is not so well known in North America.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I just dug mine out, I have never heard it before and I have the grumpy picture. Found myself truly enjoying this for the first time, Cathedral has always been a favorite, Nash tripping in the cathedral.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s great Neil! Wonder what other gems are languishing, unloved and unlistened to, on your shelves…?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thats an interesting question.

        Liked by 2 people

  8. Funny but I’ve always thought of CSN’s second album as “Deja Vu,” completely overlooking the fact that that album was a CSNY endeavor.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. An understandable perspective, for sure. The Y certainly made a difference to the CSN sound!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. pinklightsabre · · Reply

    Oh happy day at the shop, tucking these under each wing. And had fun with all your little spring references, but how can you do when it’s coming on fall there?! In bed with mimosa now, nearing nap, slipping off to the sound of a woodpecker. And a dosey-doh…(I have been around…the world…lookin’…lookin’ for that woman…who knows love can endure)

    Liked by 1 person

  10. So is this technically Yacht Rock? a genre that more and more people seem to be exhuming these days. Personally I prefer the glum cover.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Me too. Heck of a ‘yacht’, though, if it’s the one on the record label.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. After their debut album, this one is my favorite. Stills shines on this album (“Run From Tears” especially), and in my opinion it’s sadly the last where voice holds up to previous efforts. After that alcohol, age, and cocaine took its toll. But he’s my favorite on this album, though “Cathedral” is a admittedly major effort from Nash.

    I’ve never seen the label of the boat picture on vinyl before, btw (I assume Crosby’s schooner, the Mayan). A nice find! – Marty

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Nice to hear we’re harmonising on Stills contributions to CSN Marty!

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Chris M. Blackman · · Reply

    Love Cathedral. I am sure Graham Nash was on acid when he visited Winchester. “Flying in Winchester Cathedral”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed, he said as much in the liner notes to a later compilation. Apparently the trip ended in the centre of Stonehenge. Those were the days.

      Like

      1. Chris M. Blackman · · Reply

        And you know what they say about anyone who claims to remember them…

        Liked by 1 person

  13. That’s the way I browse the CDs, too!

    Anyhoo, I don’t know this one. Truth be told, I don’t know much CSN. That’s bad, eh?

    As far as the covers go, I’m all for the glum CSN. The other one suggests they’re not taking the whole seafaring thing seriously.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL-thing. Pretty much every vote in favour of the original photo then!

      Like

  14. I can’t believe there’s been a running commentary on CSN’s Cathedral and absolutely no mention of Winchester Cathedral by The New Vaudeville Band. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cT0Jh9lUhrc) Perhaps that’s what the lads were chuckling about on their boat?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Winchester Cathedral, Phil? You’re bringing me down.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. You’ve inspired me to check out what albums here haven’t been heard since 2003 or so – I think you’re right, with some of those forgotten friends, I bet most of the lyrics will return!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I’m going to take your word on this one Bruce.

    Like

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