Thursday, November 27, 2014

Forgotten Music Thursday: Crosby, Stills & Nash - CSN (1977)

By 1977, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash had not released a studio album as a threesome since their eponymous debut in 1969 or together with Neil Young since Deja Vu in 1970. When they finally issued CSN during the Jimmy Carter Administration it became a major hit even though it's never been held in as high esteem as their two earlier LPs. However, it was good enough to prove there was still a demand for the kind of music they made almost a decade earlier.

CSN, with the smiling trio on the cover masking their ever present behind the scenes turmoil, was the last album for seventeen years that would show them to be a functioning, self-contained unit. So, it's amazing that with just three LPs from their golden era (nothing they ever did together after this album would come close to matching the artistic achievements or popularity of these three) that this band became legendary as one of the greatest in rock history. Why? Because the trio is so supremely talented that when they fired on all cylinders the quality of their work was often unsurpassed.

Subsequent albums were marred by Crosby's drug problems and their inability to overcome their differences with each other. Five years later, on Daylight Again, Stills and Nash were often forced to use outside composers and vocalists due to the former Byrd's frequent absences. Timothy B. Schmidt and Art Garfunkel added harmonies to compensate for what they lost with Crosby.

It's not that CSN is a totally forgotten record but when people think of the supergroup it's almost never this album that comes immediately to mind. By 1977 disco & punk were cultural and musical forces to be reckoned with, the Woodstock era was winding down, and just three years later Ronald Reagan would be elected President so there was the belief by some that the group was already becoming a hippie anachronism. Even so, the twelve song platter reached #2 on Billboard's pop album chart, only kept out of the top spot by Fleetwood Mac's blockbuster, Rumours.

Crosby, who always wrote the least accessible music for the trio turned in some of his best work: "Shadow Captain," "Anything at All," and "In My Dreams." All feature stellar vocal harmonies but, as usual, they lack the hooks needed for radio.

Stills was on fire, contributing the very fine "See the Changes," and two entries that did get some deserved radio time, "Fair Game," and "Dark Star." In addition to the outstanding group singing the latter two show off Stills' love of percussion. He also wrote the more Crosby-like "Run From Tears" and his "I Give You Give Blind," the only true rocker on the album, percolates despite the addition of a string section.

Nash's contributions were not as melodic as usual, as "Cold Rain" and "Carried Away" prove, but he also came up with "Just a Song Before I Go," perfection that went to #7 and became the band's highest charting single ever. He also contributed one of the album's more colorful entries, the mind-blowing "Cathedral," about an acid trip he took in Winchester Cathedral on his 32nd birthday.

The songs on CSN are often less straightforward than the two classics that came before it, and this proved the group was still thinking out of the box and operating at full capacity but, overall, the music is only at a four-star level rather than the five-star peak of their earlier work. This, when taken in consideration with the era it was released in, probably contributed to CSN not quite being the A-List classic it could have been.

Nevertheless, CSN is a great record. When you want to listen to intelligent music with great arrangements and singing pull this one out of mothballs, especially if you're tired of the overplayed classic rock staples.

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