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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Stephen Stills Just Roll Tape

The feast of Stephen…

Just Roll Tape
Stephen Stills

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 Buffalo, Neil Young, were the stuff of legends), continued success for Stills was by no means a forgone conclusion. But if he had any doubts as to what lay ahead they certainly weren’t showing on April 26th,1968.

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.

1 comment:

djaitch said...

I've long been a great admirer of Steve Stills and will certainly go searching for this album. I'm not so sure whether it was his interpretation of Donovan's 'Season Of the Witch' ('Supersession' album) or the gorgeous beauty (and timelessness!)of 'Suite: Judy Blues Eyes', that hooked me. Recently I've found the CDs 'Stephen Stills' and 'Stephen Stills 2' and reminded of his skills as a song writer, although admittedly some of those lyrics are stuck in the summer of love. Didn't the media in the early 70's laud Stills as one of the rock guitar masters? Only yesterday I was marvelling at his acoustic work when interpreting Robert Johnson's (composer according to Clapton, arranger according to the Roots'N'blues Robert Johnson compilation???) 'Crossroads', avoiding by a mile the Clapton arrangement that every other rock musicians seemed to base their versions on. Then because of the superstardom and the excesses that seem to come to most West Coast bands, those musical skills were quickly forgotten. That wasn't helped by a love/hate relationship between Stills and Young, which paralleled that between Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce.

I must comment about your recent reviews appearing to have some loose connectivity - deliberate or accidental? Here you mention 'Wooden Ships' - perhaps a song more associated with Dave Crosby and Jefferson Airplane - a tune again reflecting a hippy ethos, but seemingly pessimism in its words about a post-apocalyptic world. The live album by Jefferson Airplane (so the reference to 'Volunteers' which of course had 'Wooden Ships').The earlier review of the the EMI psychedelic sampler, which provoked my response which included brief reference to the Hollies 'Evolution' LP, the album with which Graham Nash apparently try to direct fellow Mancunians in a particular area of music. De Ja Vu of sorts?

Finally: of course everybody knows that Steve Stills auditioned for a part in the Monkees, and I can only presume because of a missing tooth, Mike Nesmith got it instead.


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