B&V’s Best of 2021: Our Favorite New LPs & Vault/Live Releases

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“Time is a jet plane, it moves too fast…” – Bob Dylan, “You’re A Big Girl Now”

This year, like many before it, seemed to both fly by and at the same time drag on. I looked up and suddenly realized it’s the end of the year… it snuck up on me again. Traditionally for me, this time of year, once we’ve cleared the big Christmas holiday, always seems to bring with it a time of reflection. With New Year’s Eve – a holiday I’ve always considered Amateur Night (and I’m a fan of St. Patrick’s Day, speaking of amateurs) – comes a sense that time is passing and in some cases, slipping away. At least the introspection has stopped me from all the Holiday gorging myself. I’ve been wandering around the house with two full cheeks of food like a chipmunk for about a week now, but I digress. What was it Jackson Browne sang, “I’ve been aware of the time going by, they say in the end it’s the wink of an eye.” Maybe it’s all like Siddhartha, the Herman Hesse book, and we’re all just sitting by the river, watching it flow…always changing but yet seemingly the same. It appears I may be a little too into the reflection this year.

There seems to be a pervasive attitude among a lot of people that 2021 was just “2020 Redux.” I would argue with that. This year I was able to return to seeing my beloved Chiefs play at Arrowhead. 2020 was the first year in quite a few that I attended zero home games. Unless we all pull together progress will remain slow… I was able to travel a little this year – some in the service of my corporate masters, which I was actually looking forward to as a traveling sales guy – and some of it personal, mostly to points west to see my daughter. Hopefully you guys all got to see loved ones this year as well and didn’t have to resort to “virtual” roadtrips. Most importantly I got to see a couple of concerts. The Rock Chick surprised me with tickets to see Joan Jett and Cheap Trick (what a double-bill!) and we went out to Colorado to see 311. I can’t tell you how healing it is to spend an evening with like-minded strangers, standing in the dark in front of a stage listening to rock n roll music.

I have to say, I thought 2021 was much, much better than 2020. Although it wasn’t without tragedy. We lost a legend this year in Rolling Stones’ drummer Charlie Watts. I’m still not over that one. The man played with such an effortlessness. He made what he did look easy and believe me it wasn’t. He was the heartbeat of the Rolling Stones and one has to wonder if they’ll get over that loss. Although they did tour this year and you’d have to think those guys are in that “high risk” demographic. When I think about 2021 in general, but especially in terms of music, I thought it was a good year but I expected a great year. I thought with everybody off the road in 2020 we’d see a lot more new music than we got this year. We didn’t get that new Guns N Roses LP, although we got a few “new” singles, “Absurd” and “Hard Skool.” We didn’t get a new Stones album.

Despite those complaints, what we did get this year in terms of new music was really strong. We had new stuff from young bands like Dirty Honey and Greta Van Fleet. We had a number of new albums from veteran artists that epitomize why we founded B&V in the first place. The archives were opened up in 2021. It was a great year for live stuff and box sets. This year was a big anniversary year for many albums, especially those from 1971. As usual, I decided to end 2021 on a high note by listing out our favorite or “best of” list of new albums and in conjunction our favorite live/archival/vault releases. We did something similar last year, and the years prior. Per usual, these are listed in chronological order so please don’t consider this a ranking from 1 to 10.

B&V 2021 Best New Albums

  1. Cheap Trick, In Another WorldWhen this came out, much like 2021 itself, I was a little let down vs their prior LP, We’re All Alright! Expectations are a tricky thing. The more I listened to this album the more I dug it, much like Pearl Jam’s Gigaton last year. This is a solid, ass kicking rock album. I got to see these guys in concert and they played “The Summer Looks Good On You” and it inspired me to go back and start listening to this LP again. These guys have been delivering so consistently for so long it’s easy to overlook a great rocker like this one… “Stop Waking Me Up” should have been on my playlist ‘Songs About Sleeping.’
  2. Black Keys, Delta KreamI’ve been on these guys bandwagon since Rubber Factory. I was completely taken by surprise that they put out an album of blues covers highlighting the Mississippi Hill Country blues made famous by Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside. “Crawling Kingsnake” was the highlight but there are ton of great, bluesy tracks here.
  3. Billy F. Gibbons, HardwareThe longtime ZZTop front man released his third solo LP and it’s the most “ZZTop-y” album he’s delivered. He does what he does best whether its dirty riff rock like “My Lucky Card” or bluesy ballads like “Vagabond Man.” This may be his best solo LP yet. The final track, “Desert High” is one of the best things he’s done.
  4. Jackson Browne, Downhill From EverywhereJackson just keeps putting out great, late period albums. He’s still writing wonderful songs like “Still Searching For Something” or the great ballad, “A Little Too Soon To Tell,” with a dash of politics, “Until Justice Is Real.” He’s an important voice and this was a treat of an album.
  5. David Crosby, For Free – Crosby is in the midst of a great late career renaissance. I got on the bandwagon on Sky Trails, but For Free is another great record. He collaborates with Micheal McDonald on “River Rise” and Donald Fagan on “Rodriguez For The Night,” which is my favorite track… because we’d all “sell our soul to be Rodriguez for a night…”
  6. Lindsey Buckingham, Lindsey Buckingham – I was a little overwhelmed at work when this gem came out and didn’t write about it. This was the album that got Buckingham fired from Fleetwood Mac when he asked for more time to promote it vs go on tour with the band. There are some of Lindsey’s best solo tracks on this album, the best of which is “I Don’t Mind.” “On The Wrong Side,” “Blue Light,” and “Santa Rosa” are all great songs. My only complaint is Lindsey needs to invite some other musicians into the studio to make the sound a little fuller vs playing everything himself.
  7. Chrissie Hynde, Standing In The Doorway: Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob DylanI’m shocked at how many great cover albums came out this year. Hynde, known for her pugnacious rock n roll with the Pretenders, strips it down to acoustic guitar and piano here for an inspired set of covers, mostly from Dylan’s later career. Mesmerizing album.
  8. Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Raise The RoofIt took over a decade but Plant/Krauss finally delivered this stunning sequel to Raising Sand, highlighting the beautiful alchemy created by their intertwined voices. Pure harmonic sorcery.
  9. Sting, The Bridge – It is so utterly satisfying to hear an artist who I had, sadly, left for dead come back to life. “If It’s Love” is the best pop song he’s done in ages. I keep listening to this LP, I can’t stop. A true late career gem from Sting.
  10. Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Barn – Neil Young reunites with Crazy Horse for the second LP in a row and really delivers on Barn. From hushed acoustic tracks (“Song of the Seasons”) to full on garage-rock tracks (“Human Race”), this is the best thing he’s done in a while and I loved the last LP, Colorado.

B&V 2021 Best Vault/Archive or Live Albums

  1. Neil Young, Archive Vol 2 – An amazing chronicle of Young’s career from 1972 to 1976, ‘The Ditch Trilogy’ years. A must have for any Young fan.
  2. Black Crowes, Shake Your Money Maker 30th Anniversary – This might be my favorite box set of the year. The bonus tracks are great, but the full concert included is worth the price of admission.
  3. Fleetwood Mac, Live – Deluxe – The original Fleetwood Mac Live album but with twice the music. I’ve always felt the original double-LP, live record was underrated.
  4. Mick Fleetwood & Friends, A Celebration of Peter Green – Speaking of Fleetwood Mac, drummer Mick Fleetwood put together a great tribute for Fleetwood Mac founder Peter Green that plays like a great blues jam at a hot blues club. Steven Tyler, Billy Gibbons and Kirk Hammett all show up… The only sad part is Green was a no show… and passed shortly afterward.
  5. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Deja Vu 50th Anniversary – Revisiting the landmark 1971 album with a bunch of demo’s and the seeds of many of the tracks that ended up on their solo records. I was surprised how much I loved every bit of this.
  6. The White Stripes, White Blood Cells – Deluxe – The album that broke them far and wide… plus a concert from that tour which is icing on the cake.
  7. George Harrison, All Things Must Pass – 50th Anniversary – Another 50th anniversary… George’s magnum opus complete with great demo’s, both acoustic and fleshed out with the band. Truly a glimpse into the creative process that was ATMP. I really dig the acoustic demo’s where he lays out the mostly all fully realized tracks. He really was stifled in the Beatles.
  8. Bob Dylan, Springtime In New YorkA box set from Dylan’s oft-overlooked early 80s during the recording of the LPs Shot Of Love, Infidels and Empire Burlesque which proves that this period needs another listen.
  9. The Beatles, Let It Be – Super DeluxeA bunch of outtakes from one of my favorite Beatles’ albums. The Super Deluxe really fleshes the album out. A must for any Beatles fan. I can’t keep humming and air-guitaring to “Get Back.”
  10. The Rolling Stones, Tattoo You – 40th Anniversary Tattoo You was assembled from outtakes from earlier recording sessions, so they returned to that formula to add 9 more bonus tracks. There’s a Super Deluxe edition that has a full concert from the tour. This was an iconic album for all of us who were too young and missed them in the 60s… This was a special box.
  11. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, The Legendary 1979 No Nukes Concert – I thought I’d throw in a bonus album, this concert document that I didn’t have time to write about. Most of the E Street Band’s legendary 1978 concerts in support of Darkness On The Edge of Town were three hours long… This abbreviated set for the No Nukes show was only an hour and a half and it’s like the band, who had been in the studio laboring over The River, sound like they’ve been shot out of a cannon. It’s chalk full of hits. It’s perfect for a casual fan who can’t groove for three hours.

That’s our top of the pops for 2021. I hope you guys enjoyed this music as much as we did here in the B&V labs. I hope everybody has a safe and happy New Year’s. I’ll be doing what I do every year. We’ll head out to dinner with friends and home and asleep by probably 10. Like I said, it’s Amateur Night. Even when I was young and faced the hope of some fabulous, un-forseen New Year’s Eve liaison… it never panned out, but I digress. I, for one, am looking forward to 2022. I hope we’ll see you here at B&V next year! Thanks to all of you who have joined and contributed to our little musical dialogue!

Cheers and again, Happy New Year!

Review: David Crosby, ‘For Free,’ The Sublime New Album – One Of His Best Solo LPs

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“I don’t know if I’m dying or about to be born” – David Crosby, “I Won’t Stay For Long”

I started this year deeply immersed in Neil Young’s Archives, Volume II covering his career from 1972 to 1976. Then I found myself wildly obsessed with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Deja Vu: 50th Anniversary. The outtakes and stuff that didn’t make the album sowed the seeds to the beginning of all of their solo careers. Well, at least for David Crosby, Graham Nash, and Stephen Stills. I think it’s true Neil always guarded his best stuff for his solo albums but I’m getting off topic. Right now I’m similarly enraptured with David Crosby’s new LP, For Free. I guess for me 2021 is just a CSNY, Laurel Canyon, California, folk-rock haze. I guess I should have gone all in on the purchase of the buckskin fringe jacket, tie-dye t-shirt and bell bottom jeans my wife forbade me to wear. The album cover for For Free was painted by none other than Joan Baez which only accentuates my whole vibe these days…when I’m not complaining about the awful new Gun N’ Roses song

David Crosby is in the midst of what can only be described as a career renaissance or a creative peak that has lasted several years and counting. He’s released five albums in the last seven years, a Van Morrison-ish pace. If you’d told me that this far down the line it’d be Crosby’s records I’d be excitedly awaiting and not Neil Young’s, I’d have scoffed. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always dug David Crosby but from 1971 to 2013 he only released 3 solo albums. Over those 42 years that’s average of an album every fourteen years (for all you math-challenged folks out there). And admittedly during those years there were some legal issues fueled by drug use… drugs start out as fun, turn into fun with trouble and end with just trouble… Of course during those years he also released a number of duo albums with his erstwhile friend Graham Nash and a few with CSN and occasionally Y. There are some who say Crosby is better in a band setting. He was a founding member of the Byrds although he was eventually contentiously fired. He did seem to thrive in the configurations of Crosby, Stills, Nash and/or Young and certainly flourished in his recordings with Graham Nash. I even dug his CPR stuff with Jeff Pevar and James Raymond, his son who he gave up for adoption but reunited with later in life. But in truth, I actually dig Crosby solo, front and center if you will. Check out “Drive My Car”…a truly great tune.

This whole creative burst started with 2014’s Croz produced in part by his son James Raymond. That was a surprisingly solid record, his first solo disc in 21 years. He then teamed up with Micheal League from Snarky Puppy and vocalists Becca Stevens and Michelle Williams for the more raw and acoustic Lighthouse in 2016. Crosby who was used to laboring over a record for years was approached by League who asked if he wanted to try and do something more immediate like Crosby’s masterpiece If I Could Only Remember My Name. I think they recorded Lighthouse in like five days. That gave Crosby sort of a dual career path. He’d do an album with Raymond at the helm – a more polished, focused studio effort – and then he’d jump back into the League/Stevens/Williams camp that he calls “the Lighthouse Band” and do something more raw-boned. The Lighthouse Band really connects with Crosby’s folky roots to my ears. I really love the harmonizing the vocalists do. After the Lighthouse album, Crosby returned to the James Raymond-helmed band and in 2017 released Sky Trails an LP that just knocked me out. What a gorgeous album. That’s the one that got me onto the Crosby bandwagon. I didn’t write about his League produced/Lighthouse Band follow up, Hear If You Listen because for some reason I was led to believe it was merely a live album. It’s amazing. The version of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” on that LP rivals Joni’s original… and possibly CSNY’s version. Crosby produced Mitchell’s debut LP, and it seems he covers a track of hers on every LP he does now.

And so now, Crosby has returned to the James Raymond-produced Sky Trails side of his career and released For Free. His voice, while slightly weathered by time is still an incredible instrument. And Raymond’s production for this album is a perfect environment for Crosby to soar as a vocalist. James Raymond has a solo writing credit on three of the tracks and they’re all stand-outs. At this stage of his career Crosby sounds like a wise and wizened Buddha sitting on the side of a mountain, laying out melodic wisdom. On Here If You Listen he sang and ruminated on subjects from Zen to mortality. The lyrics verge on poetry. For Free, like Sky Trails before it, is a much more polished and (dare I say) pop-oriented record (at least to a degree). Crosby has always had a fascination with jazz and you hear that vibe sprinkled throughout the album. It’s not jazz but it’s jazzy. He certainly pulls that sound off better than Sting used to try and do. While I dig the Lighthouse band, I’m more into the Croz/SkyTrails side of the equation. While unlike previous records there’s nothing I’d call overtly political on this record – despite Crosby’s reputation as a political firebrand – the album does have a feeling of coming out of the darkness and heading toward the light. That’s a feeling we can all get into these days. The band on For Free includes, as usual, James Raymond on various instruments (what can’t he play?), sax player Steve Tavaglione, drummer Steve DiStanislao among others.

The opening track, which is also the first single, is “River Rise” a duet with Michael McDonald. Yes, I’ll admit this harkens back to the Doobie Brother’s “Yacht Rock” of the late 70s but it’s a great tune. It’s a catchy damn tune and amazingly buoyant. McDonald used to sing with Steely Dan and I think that’s really the vibe Crosby is going for. The first track on Sky Trails, “She’s Got To Be There” had a Steely Dan sound so that makes sense. “River Rise” quickly fades into the second track, which may be my favorite song, “I Think I.” I love the chorus, “I think I found my way…” If only I could too… Crosby’s vocal is impassioned. Speaking of a Steely Dan vibe, another stand out is “Rodriguez For A Night,” which is actually written by Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen. It’s the funniest track here, full of angels, drugstore cowboys and the titular outlaw. I think I speak for all of us when I say, “I’d sell my soul to be Rodriguez for a night.” That song sounds like an outtake from Katy Lied. It also recalls, for me, Crosby’s own “Cowboy Movie.”

Crosby, as he’s done on several albums in a row now, covers a Joni Mitchell song. It’s the title track, “For Free.” He’s accompanied beautifully by Sarah Jarosz. He’s done this track twice before – once with the Byrds and once on a live CSN album – so this makes his third try. I’m guessing he re-recorded the song because this is a great vehicle for Jarosz and he to sing together. It’s a great song about a street musician who plays basically, “for free.” He plays merely for the love of playing. “Secret Dancer” is a beautifully sung track about a robot who becomes sentient and then, horrified by human’s history of suffering, dances it away. Someone has been watching Ex Machina. “The Other Side of Midnight” is a beautiful James Raymond song that may be about dancing with Mother Nature late at night…

The last three tracks on the album make for quite a close. The intensity of the album really kicks up a notch. “Boxes” a meditation on time and it’s passing and it is simply wonderful. “There’s love in these boxes.” Following that is “Shot At Me” about a veteran returned from the war. Finally, the track that ends the album and might be the most emotionally effecting is “I Won’t Stay For Long.” It begins with Crosby’s voice, a piano and muted horn… which really sets the mood. This one is also written by James Raymond and it’s a stunner. It’s poetic, emotional and the perfect track to end on. “I’m facing a squall like of a thousand-year storm, I don’t know if I’m dying or about to be born, But I’d like to be with you today.” Heavy ruminations man.

This may be my favorite of Crosby’s late career albums and I really loved Sky Trails so that’s saying something. These latter day David Crosby LPs are the kind of records that B&V was built to highlight. This certainly isn’t an album you’re going to play at your Labor Day BBQ party. However, it’s a perfect, late night, sitting out on the deck with a tumbler of something dark and murky when you just want to get lost in some high quality melodies and music. This is one of the best albums I’ve heard all year.

Cheers!

Review: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s ‘Deja Vu (50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)’

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“If I had ever been here before I would probably know just what to do, Don’t you?” – CSNY, “Deja Vu”

I didn’t start listening to rock n roll until I was in junior high in the late 70s. By the time I was in high school I considered myself an “aficionado” on the subject of rock n roll. However, I knew so little about the rock music I professed to love that if you’d have asked me about Crosby, Stills, Nash and/or Young, I’d have probably confused them with Seals & Croft. Even though I was into Dylan – from his rock n roll stuff to his folky stuff and yes, even his Christian stuff – I knew very little about the folk rock or country rock that had emanated out of L.A.’s Laurel Canyon. Neil Young was probably my “gateway drug” in terms of discovering CSNY. And to give credit where credit is due, it was my college roommate Drew who turned me onto Neil Young. Through Neil’s Decade greatest hits LP, I ventured into CSNY and picked up their landmark 1970 album Deja Vu. I loved the Young tune “Helpless” but once I picked up Deja Vu, I was stunned at how great it was and how great Stills, Nash and Crosby were. That of course led me to the first Crosby, Stills, Nash self-titled LP, aka “The Couch Album,” so nicknamed because on the cover the members are sitting on a couch on the porch of a dilapidated shack. CSN (and later Y) really changed rock n roll music. I read somewhere that rock n roll previous to CSNY was basically “the blues played louder and faster.” And yes, in high school that was the rock I was listening too… louder and faster, indeed.

The story of how Crosby, Stills and Nash came together is the thing of myth now. As the story goes, they all had left or been fired from their previous bands. They all met for the first time at a party at Cass Elliott’s place (Cass of the Mamas and Papas). They harmonized at the party and realized they were onto something and formed a band. That mythical story isn’t completely accurate, they didn’t actually “meet” at the party. It is true Graham Nash had quit the Hollies in 1968 and had moved to Laurel Canyon. Stills had been a member of the Buffalo Springfield who had finally disbanded after their third LP, Last Time Around. But there’s no way that Stills didn’t already know David Crosby who had been fired from the Byrds. The story goes that he was fired for presenting the song “Triad” about a menage a trois to the band. Actually Crosby had been at odds with his Byrds bandmates for a while. He was fond of rambling on about JFK assassination conspiracy theories on stage. He argued with the band about doing covers vs stuff they’d written because he wanted the publishing money. And worst of all – at a festival (Monterey I think) – he sat in with the Byrds’ arch rivals, yes, the Buffalo Springfield. “Triad” was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. Ergo, Stephen Stills and Crosby had already known each other. Regardless of inaccuracies in the myth, they did apparently meet Nash and sing together at Mama Cass’s party. And they were right, the vocal harmonies of these three voices was simply spellbinding.

They quickly formed a band, signed with Atlantic Records and picked up the rhythm section of Dallas Taylor on drums and Greg Reeves on bass. Their debut album, creatively titled Crosby, Stills and Nash was a monster hit. On the heels of that smash success Ahmet Ertegun (founder of Atlantic) supposedly suggested they add Neil Young as member because he liked the interplay of Young and Stills’ guitars from their time together in the Springfield. I can’t imagine a savvy record guy like Ertegun thinking it was a good idea to mess with the chemistry of a band who just had a smash hit. What I’ve read over the years was they were going to add a keyboard player and approached Steve Winwood to join, but he quickly declined. I’ve also heard they approached the Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian who was a friend of the band and he declined as well. Perhaps that was the point Ertegun suggested Young. Again, after the success of Crosby, Stills & Nash, it’s hard for me to believe they thought they needed a 4th member…and yet, enter Neil Young.

The problem of course is I’m not sure Young was ever that committed to CSNY. They played one of their first shows at Woodstock and Young refused to be part of the film of that performance. He sat off to the side. Neil had been in and out of the Buffalo Springfield and I think he brought that “band commitment phobia” with him to CSNY. The band recorded their first album as a quartet in 1970, Deja Vu. Sadly, Covid delayed the release of the 50 year anniversary edition until this year. Young contributed his iconic “Helpless”  to Deja Vu but his second contribution was a track “Country Girl,” which was a combination of three songs he’d written for Buffalo Springfield, “Whiskey Boot Hill,” “Down Down Down” and “Country Girl (I Think You’re Pretty)” that Young put together in the style of a “suite” like he did with “Broken Arrow” or “Expecting to Fly” in the Springfield. It’s easy to suspect that Young did, like so many artists with a solo and band career are accused, keep his best stuff for his solo records. Even Stills said, years later, “Neil only gave us like, three songs (“Helpless,” “Country Girl” and “Ohio”). Even in the bonus material on this new Deja Vu: 50th Edition, there’s scant Neil Young.

I knew this Deja Vu 50th Anniversary Edition box was coming but I hesitated to jump on the bandwagon. I was very focused early this year on Neil Young’s Archives Vol. 2 instead. You never know if a retrospective release of an album is going to be Wildflowers or something like what the Who did with The Who Sell Out, just repackaging stuff you’ve heard before. I needn’t have worried. When Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young finally went into the studio as a quartet to record the follow up to Crosby, Stills And Nash they supposedly spent 800 hours recording this album. The relationships in the band had become somewhat volatile and they recorded this in much the same way that the Beatles recorded The Beatles (The “White Album”), treating the other band members as back-up musicians. Whoever wrote the song played the track and brought in Young or Stills for guitar and the whole band for the harmony vocals. Based on the treasures in this box set, they could have put out a double album. Many of the songs included in this box ended up on the members solo LPs that followed: Crosby, If I Could Only Remember My Name (1971); Stills, Stephen Stills (70); Nash, Songs For Beginners (1972); and Neil Young, After The Gold Rush (1970). It’s remarkable to me that Stills and Young put out solo LPs mere months after Deja Vu arrived. These four songwriters were truly at a peak in 70-71.

Disc 1 of the 50th Anniversary box is the original album. The sound is amazing. It sounds, especially on some of the demos, like these guys are sitting in the room with you, or on the porch strumming. The original LP has one of Neil’s best songs, as mentioned, “Helpless.” I love that he later played that song with the Band at The Last Waltz concert. Nash has two of his greatest tracks, “Teach Your Children,” and “Our House,” the latter written about he and his then main squeeze Joni Mitchell’s place. Crosby has his usual trippy almost jazzy stuff with the title track and one of my all time favorite expressions of paranoia, “Almost Cut My Hair.” I love the line, “it increases my paranoia, like looking in my rearview mirror and seeing a police car.” I think we’ve all been there. Don’t drink and drive people. Stills does the yeoman’s work again, like on Crosby, Stills and Nash, when Nash gave him the nickname “Captain Many Hands” as Stills played all the instruments. Stills takes Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” and rocks it out with Young. This was the guitar fireworks Ertegun was looking for. “4+20” is one of my all time favorite Stills tracks. Crosby and Nash famously refused to put backing vocals on it, they thought it was perfect as is and I couldn’t agree more. As a  young, foolishly heart-broken college kid “4+20” could have been my theme song… If you do anything after this post, at least pick up Deja Vu. From the opening “Carry On,” to the ending “Everybody I Love You” this is folk-rock, hippy masterpiece.

Disc 2 here is all demos. I think when I saw there were 18 demos, I was concerned. Sometimes demos can sound rough or unfinished. Not here. These are mostly all completely finished tunes. Some are demos of the tracks on Deja Vu but other songs are tracks that didn’t make the album. Those songs that didn’t make it could have almost been listed as outtakes vs demos. At the heart of their songs, CSNY have either an acoustic guitar or a piano. Yes, they adorn it with more guitar and harmony vocals but the heartbeat is a simple acoustic song. That’s what these demos are, the heartbeat of the finished tracks, the bones upon which the finished songs were based. There are so many great tracks on disc 2. The sole Young contribution is here, “Birds” demo’d with just he and Graham Nash on harmony vocal. It’s a spectacular song and I love this demo. “How Have You Been” credited to CSN is a John Sebastian cover… it could have made the album. Crosby’s “Song With No Words (Tree With No Leaves)” delivered here with just he and Nash is stripped to its elemental beauty. “So Begins The Task/Hold On Tight” which appeared on Stills’ LP with Manassas, is quintessential Stills. While many of these demos ended up on the members solo albums (which I posted about before), in more definitive versions but these are all great versions of the songs. Listening to these demos you have to wonder if the law firm style name, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, was an indication that this was a consortium of musicians looking to launch their own solo brands vs a real band. I always imagine a commercial that goes, “Been busted with a dime bag, call the law firm of Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young,” but I’m getting off track here. Over the course of 18 tracks you get the feel for the recording sessions for Deja Vu and it helps frame the entire album. A must-hear experience for fans.

The third disc is my evidence that this could have been a double album. It consists of “outtakes.” A demo is an early version of a song. An outtake is a fully completed song that didn’t make the album. Many outtakes end up being B-sides on singles. Or, they used to back in the days when singles were released on vinyl. The outtakes are dominated by Stills tracks. Stills seems to be the most dedicated member of CSNY to the band ethos. “Ivory Tower” and my favorite “30 Dollar Fine” would have made fine additions to a double LP version of Deja Vu. Crosby’s “Laughing,” here stripped down almost matches the version on If I Could Only Remember My Name. “The Lee Shore” which CSNY did live but I don’t think ever released in a studio version, sounds great here. I will say Nash’s “Horses In A Rainstorm” is a bit slight but it is a nice pop tune. Theres so much great material on Disc 3 it’s no wonder that these guys continued to come back to these songs for solo releases down the road. This disc of outtakes is really where the gold is found on this box, even for a casual fan. They wrote the songs that would last their whole careers in those 800 hours.

The final disc, disc 4, is probably the slightest of the four, at least at first glance. It’s “early versions” or “alternative versions” of almost every track on the original album, in the same order. The original album is clearly the definitive version, although I’ll admit, I found some interesting things on disc 4. The version of “Helpless” here has some harmonica, omitted from the original. I think this version was on Neil’s Archives Vol 1. The version of “Almost Cut My Hair” is a sloppy, 10-minute guitar jam. It’s like hearing CSNY drunk in a bar at midnight. I understand why they couldn’t use this version but man is it a great jam. I also really dug the version of “Know You Got To Run” that concludes this box.

I was simply overwhelmed by how great this box set commemorating the 50th anniversary of Deja Vu turned out to be. I highly recommend this album. I’ve been simply lost in this thing for the last two weeks. I wake up every morning with a song in my head. Since I got this box I wake up with “Carry On” or “Our House” or some other track here in  my head. These vocal harmonies and infectious melodies just bore into your ear and straight into your brain. Any artist who is looking to do a retrospective around a classic album should use this LP as a blue print. Of course, I understand most artists wouldn’t have 4 songwriters at their zenith contributing this much bonus material. But there in lies the majesty of CSNY.

Turn this one up loud and get your hippy groove on. And if you’re reading this and thinking about getting your hair cut… don’t do it man! Let your “freak flag fly.” Cheers!