From The Vault: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – “Déjà vu” (1970)
These were the times, and these are the stories of those times …
While the first Crosby, Stills and Nash album was a sensational hit, there were many who were hoping that both the vocals and guitar work of Neil Young would bring a darker mystery to this outing, rather than the sublime sweetness from the CS&N album. And while Neil did a masterful job, he wasn’t able to overshadow his numerous band mates, to convince them into changing the style and tenor that they and the record industry were not willing to step away from, hence we would not get super group songs in the style of “Down By The River” or “When You Dance.” The track “Country Girl” gave me great hope that the production might swing into high gear with Young at the helm, creating a complexity that only he can bring to the table, yet even that paled in comparison to his solo projects.
Of course, just seeing the physical albums was enough to entice one to purchase it, though in retrospect, the cynics [actually Rolling Stone Magazine was quite displeased with the venture] would have you realize that the album jacket wasn’t really leather, it was just heavy paper crushed by a millstone to give the appearance of leather, and the grainy image of cowboys under the low spreading branches of a tree, turned less into gunslingers on the run, and more into that of the ‘men folk’ at a family reunion … and that with this packaging, CSN&Y seemed to be trying to convince listeners that their roots sprang from the good earth of American music. That being said the glittering harmonies [which sometimes got just a bit too sweet for my ears], musical precision, and impeccable laid back relaxed atmosphere created here can not be denied, even if it lacks a sonically stronger structure and presentation.
So, if CS&N was a super group, then CSN&Y was a super dooper group, where in the style of the times they managed to create a pretty fine collection of lasting value. Along with their lesser known members, David Crosby, who dropped out [actually he was kicked out of the nest] of The Byrds, along with Graham Nash who was dismissed from The Hollies, and Stephen Stills and Neil Young who had nowhere to go once Buffalo Springfield went down in flames, manage to not only find each other, but find the essences of each other within themselves and create an album that truly came from the heart. On that note, one must acknowledge the inconsistency of many of the songs, and also a bit of incoherency, but hey, that’s what happens when four such talented musicians are put in one place at the same time, with a single concept to be explored … and that concept was an extension of the CS&N album. Within that structure each of the four members contributed an original composition to each side of the album, and as I noted, this did belay a diversity and inconsistency. For all Déjà vu was or wasn’t, it did manage to work out well, with the songs from individuals, rather then penned as a group, stood in juxtaposition to each other in a dynamic manner, creating an sense anticipation as the album unfolded, turning these numbers into true American classics.
Within a year of recoding Déjà vu, all four members laid down solo projects that were nicely done, with Young’s material nearly becoming the anthem and soundtrack for the generation.
The Fun Facts: The sepia album cover was photographed in sunny California, about twenty miles northeast of San Francisco, in the city of Novato, the backyard of Crosby’s rental house. Stephen Stills opted for a Confederate Army uniform, Crosby donned a Buffalo Bill look, complete with the fringed Easy Rider suede jacket, Dallas Taylor was the gunslinger, Graham Nash came off as a sort of farmer in suspenders, Greg Reeves came across as some sort of half breed, while Neil Young looked pretty much like Neil Young.
The photograph was actually taken using a wooden box camera with a negative glass plate, meaning that they had to remain still for as long as they could [over two minutes], and that dog, it just sort of wandered into the shot and become immortalized.
The collage of shots on the inner gatefold were assembled by art director Gary Burden, and were taken by the photographer Henry Diltz while the band practiced at Stephen Still’s house in the Hollywood Hills, a house Stills had rented it from Peter Tork of the Monkees whom he had met while both were folksingers in Greenwich Village in the early 60’s.
The first editions of the album were actually stamped with gold lettering.
– Jenell Kesler
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