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A WORTHY OVERVIEW OF STILLS HALF-CENTURY IN MUSIC
on March 26, 2013
"I want to play, I want to sing. I want to make good records." Stephen Stills.
Most everyone reading this knows Stills' music, so here's the bottom line. If you're a deep fan of Stephen Still's music-his writing, his playing, and his expressive, time worn voice-you'll want this set. Even the unheard different mixes of already released songs are worth hearing. But I do wonder why so many were included, especially with all the unreleased studio and live tracks, both solo and with band members that have never seen the light of day. Some may quibble about tracks included or left off (the lengthy version of "Bluebird" that Stills apparently dislikes is one example), but I suppose this is Nash's, Bernstein's and to some extent, Stills' ideas of what songs he wants in an overview of his music. And Stills' writing does seem to take a slight dive beginning in the third disc, but as an overall statement this is a weighty collection. It's evident (especially with headphones) that a lot of time was spent getting the sound just right-it's smooth and well balanced, clean and without any harshness. All the music here-both familiar and perhaps not so familiar-is a testament to Stills' well spent half-century in music. From just an acoustic guitar and vocal, to full electric band, Stills was (and is) always identifiable.
From the very first track, "Travelin'" from 1962, his voice and approach to a song is already in place. Even the 1964 song "High Flyin' Bird", with The Au Go Go Singers, shows his individual style. From that point there's music from Buffalo Springfield, some of which are previously unreleased mixes that can stand on their own. And some unreleased solo songs and demos ("Who Ran Away?", "49 Reasons"), into CSN tracks, an unreleased demo of a Manassas tune ("So Begins The Task"), and a good unreleased demo of "The Lee Shore" from CSN&Y.
From that point it only gets better. The songs you'd expect to be here are, but it's the unheard tracks that elevate this collection to something special. The relatively short (2:39) "No Name Jam" between Stills and Jimi Hendrix is pretty cool. Why hasn't the rest of that music been released? I keep hearing (from Stills) that most of what was recorded is formless, aimless "junk". Hmmm. There's also the guitar dueling between Stills and Eric Clapton on "Go Back Home". The tune "The Treasure", from the first Manassas album is here in an early 70's unreleased studio version with Fuzzy Samuels-bass, the great Conrad Isidore-drums, and Stills on piano/organ/guitar/vocal. And speaking of Manassas (a personal favorite), "Song of Love" and "Jet Set (Sigh)" among others, are also here. And listen to the well known "Change Partners" (with Jerry Garcia on pedal steel) in an unreleased but good mix. Yet another gem is the live unreleased "Find The Cost Of Freedom" by CSN&Y from 1971.
From 1973 there's "Little Miss Bright Eyes", an unreleased studio track featuring Joe Lala-percussion, Dallas Taylor-drums, and Stills-everything else, which is another good unheard studio gem showing Stills' skills as an all around musician. And listen to "Now You Got To Run", an unheard live version from 1975, with Stills on vocals and banjo. Or the live "Crossroads/You Can't Catch Me" from 1977. But be aware-the edited version of Traffic's "Dear Mr. Fantasy", clocking in at just under six and a half minutes-is here instead of the longer version found on the CSN box set.
The mono "Welfare Blues" from 1984 is Stills alone with electric guitar and vocals-yet another fine unreleased song. The live unreleased version of Dylan's "Girl From The North Country" from CSN, in 2012, shows the trio still has that great sound. The collection finishes up with a couple of live songs-one from CSN ("No Tears Left") and CSN&Y ("Ole Man Trouble") from 2002. The final song, "Ain't It Always" is a great way to end things. I may be quibbling a bit, but why wasn't anything from the 1968 album "Super Session" included? Because it's on another label? Too bad.
As for the packaging, the hard back, wallet-style cover is slightly larger than a standard jewel case (5 3/4" across X 5 1/4" tall X 1 1/2 " thick), and has thick stiff front and back covers. In between, the four discs snap into connected, individual trays (with some great photos underneath) that unfold like the plastic card holders in wallets. There's a slot for the 116 page booklet. Included is a short piece by Graham Nash and Joel Bernstein. A longer essay on Stills' career by Michael Garcia, and an in depth essay by Daniel Levitin. The remainder of the booklet is track-by-track information, and a final essay on Stills by friend David Bender. The booklet is also filled with a number of photographs (color and b&w), many new (especially the early shots) to most fans. All in all, like the music, this is a nicely thought out package to present music of this caliber.
So, if you're hesitating about purchasing this collection-do it-you'll be glad you did. In the end every track shows Stills doing what he does best. Worth the money.
Stills fans should look for a blues album ("Can't Get Enough") in the near future featuring Stills and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Stills says it's smoking hot and he can hardly wait for people to hear it.