The feast of Stephen…
Just Roll Tape
Christmas has come early this year with the release of this set. Prodigiously talented it sheds some much needed light on the depth of his contribution to Crosby, Stills & Nash.
Having blagged himself some studio downtime on a Judy Collins recording date, Stephen Stills sat down with an acoustic guitar to demo some new songs. With Buffalo Springfield sinking into oblivion, he fashioned from this material a life raft that would carry him toward the kind of acclaim he had always wanted and worked for.
With a reputation as being difficult to work with (his frequent scraps with fellow
At this point he had yet to hook up with Nash and Crosby but as these unadorned and often raw performances show, he had an almost embarrassing abundance of top notch material awaiting them.
The frisson of excitement attending this release isn’t only to do with the copper-bottom content but where it all eventually ended up. Occasionally singing at the outer limits of his natural range, it’s as though he’s already speculating how it might sound with another vocalist.
Hindsight allows us to hear the future about to arrive, how some tracks would be subsequently shaped after those dazzling harmonies were eagerly provided a few months later to these hot-off-the press versions of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”, “Helplessly Hoping” and “Wooden Ships.”
Other tracks such as the courtly waltz of “Change Partners” and his soulful blues, “Black Queen” would by-pass CSN to find their level in his solo work and with Manassas. Others, such as the poignant “Dreaming of Snakes,” remained lost for almost 40 years and emerge now into a radically changed world but still sounding as remarkable and as relevant as the day he recorded them.
As he says in his brief liner notes “these songs now feel like great friends when they were really young.” With personal problems and indifferent releases marring his later career, this first rate release reminds us just how absurdly talented Stephen Stills really is. Essential stuff.