Sunday, May 27, 2012

Crosby, Stills & Nash (1969)

(This review originally appeared in May 2009.)

Treble: That's the first thing you automatically think of when the debut record from Crosby, Stills and Nash begins and "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" introduces you to their sound. Treble dominates the entire album, throbbing in waves throughout the album's ten songs, with sprightly drums guiding the music along and economical bass lines pacing the tempos.
It's this element that made Crosby Stills, & Nash such a big touchstone in summer of 1969. Its sound reverberates with freshness and warmth, and a good deal of serendipity unites songs that touch on numerous personal feelings and topical ideas with aplomb. Suddenly rock and roll had grown up and approached many adult themes of love, life, and the pursuit of meaning in a changing world. Stephen Stills's "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" expresses a sense of desperation in its buoyancy, and David Crosby's "Guinnevere" exudes hopefulness in  a sparse arrangement of acoustic guitars that seem to have a conversation with each other. Graham Nash lightens the mood with his playful observations of Moroccan train travel ("Marrakesh Express") and rock and roll touring ("Pre-Road Downs") even as Crosby and Stills acknowledge their fears. "Wooden Ships," with its haunting organ flourishes and its intense, brittle guitar notes, gives voice to the anxiety over nuclear war, while Crosby, in his elegy to Robert F. Kennedy, "Long Time Gone," ponders a bright future now lost in darkness. Alliterative wordplay in "Helplessly Hoping" is about as much fun as Stills allows himself.
The whole point of Crosby, Stills and Nash's first record, of course, was the harmonies, the three voices locked in perfect unison and creating a vocal sound that made the trio - refugees from the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and the Hollies, respectively - sound less like a supergroup and more like a natural, organic partnership that was meant to be. But as one listen of this record proves, it was about more than the harmonies. Poco, the Eagles, America - all were seventies Los Angeles groups who were inspired by Crosby, Stills and Nash's low-keyed West Coast sound and who popularized harmony vocals, but their records were flawed. Poco were softer and more relaxed, the Eagles were inconsistent, and America - with their nonsensical lyrics and their lack of anything that could be called musical energy - were flat-out awful. The harmonic sound of CSN's vocals was a major influence, and it did give the trio their distinction. But the music and the lyrics that their voices rested on - not to mention the attitude and personal consciousness that fueled them - are especially big reasons why we celebrate the entire Crosby Stills & Nash LP today. 

1 comment:

Colleen said...

I'm flashing back to my youth, and looking for a CD 'cause I got rid of the album