In 2009, CSN Demos appeared on record store shelves and fans the world over rejoiced. Well maybe not exactly, but certainly anyone who was and remains a follower of their music will no doubt find much on this compilation to smile about. Recorded between 1968 and 1971, undoubtedly the trio’s golden period, these twelve cuts offer the listener a behind the scenes glimpse into the creative, albeit oft-times dysfunctional, process of this relatively short lived supergroup.
Released in the same year as Neil Young’s own mammoth Archives boxed set, Demos is extremely lightweight in comparison, but no less enjoyable. Graham Nash’s “Marrakesh Express”, with David Crosby in tow, is given a spritely workout, while Crosby’s “Almost Cut My Hair”, recorded at Wally Heider’s studio in September 1969, has him performing alone, and while it might not be as fully engaging as the electric version issued on Déjà Vu, it’s intriguing all the same.
Stephen Stills is well represented by a solo take of “You Don’t Have To Cry” from August 1968, the philosophical “Singing Call” (a song that would appear on his second self titled album), and the love ballad “My Love Is A Gentle Thing”, a tune Stills recorded several times, yet never completed to his satisfaction.
Nash’s “Sleep Song’ is one of those pleasant domestic love songs he was so fond of, before rousing the listener with the political/social anthem of “Chicago”, on which Nash sings with all the concern of a man who is suffering from a strained testicle. Crosby delivers a solo rendition of “Déjà Vu”, with plenty of scatting, proving that the song was firmly in place before CSNY would do their own version.
From 1971 we have a recording of Nash’s “Be Yourself”, another one of those sickly-sweet numbers Graham seemed capable of tossing off on a daily basis. “Long Time Gone” stems from a session dating back to June 1968 between Stills and Crosby, before Nash had joined the group. One of Crosby’s more polemical tunes, it wouldn’t be until the following year that the song would be re-recorded and find an official release. Perhaps of most interest is a mono mix of “Music Is Love”, the same master take that would appear on Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name, sans overdubs. It’s also the only track here featuring Neil Young, who for whatever reason is often reluctant to allow his contributions to be included alongside CSN material.
The album concludes with Stills’ performing unaccompanied on a vibrant “Love the One You’re With”, a song that would find its way on to his first solo record.
Let it be said that the sound quality is excellent throughout. This is no ‘unearthed from the backyard shed’ collection, that’s for sure. Even in their more organic form, these songs still shine in all their unpolished glory. And while there may be few if any real surprises (most of the arrangements are exactly the same), long time disciples may want to light the fire, place some flowers in the vase, before teaching their children (or grandchildren) how music used to be made.