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…
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.