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A Timely Reminder
on 2 April 2013
I wonder how many young men and women, on hearing Stephen Stills' '4 + 20' for the first time, decided they wanted to learn guitar and play that song. I certainly did and have spent the best part of the last 40 years listening to and trying (in vain) to emulate his playing. Following his career has brought enormous pleasure and - at times - dismay, but as this wonderfully well assembled and presented 4 CD box set proves, the man is an exceptional talent
It's been a while in the making, but Graham Nash and Joel Bernstein deserve enormous credit for compiling this expansive and well-packaged anthology. I have everything Stills has recorded with Buffalo Springfield, CSN, CSNY, Manassas, The Stills Young Band and solo and yet still get a massive sense of exhileration and wonderment when I listen to his music. The blend of folk, blues, county, rock and Latin continues to enthrall me, as does his guitar paying, both acoustic and electric. Listened to from the opening ' Travelin' on CD1 through to closing 'Ain't It Always' on CD4, I cannot help but be struck by the sheer range of style, lyrics, subject matter and arrangement. At times deeply and painfully personal (So Begins The Task, Do For The Others, Haven't We Lost Enough?), at times jubliant and swaggering (Suite;Judy Blue Eyes, Love The One Your With, Rock 'n Roll Crazies/Cuban Bluegrass),frequently political (Four Days Gone, Isn't It About Time,Find The Cost of Freedom), the set shows just how wide Stills can cast his net. There's so much variety of pace and mood in the selections here that it never drags or repeats itself - no matter how many times you may have heard the songs.
Quibbles? Inevitably and was it ever thus with these sort of projects. But in reality they are minor. The much anticipated recordings with Hendrix are limited to the sub 3 minute and somewhat underwhelming 'No Name Jam' and for the Manassas geeks amongst us, the absence of any of their live material will be a disappointment. But there are more than enough different cuts and unreleased songs/demos to satisfy the lifelong fan. A nice live acoustic duet with Steve Fromhaltz on 'Do For The Others' grabs the attention as does the solo electric 'Welfare Blues'. Despite a few noticeable absentees ('Word Game' and the Manassas closer 'Bluesman')the song selection is almost faultless. As an accurate reflection of his body of work, Nash and Bernstein have done the man proud. The set is accompanied by an excellent 100 + page booklet with a lot of new photos, track details and notes from the (few) people who know this enigmatic artist really well.
'Have I been gifted or robbed?' sings Stills on 'Open Secret' (not included here) back at the very height of his powers in the early 70's. I guess only he truly knows about the latter but this release is a timely reminder that he was (arguably still is) indeed the former. Highly recommended to die-hard fans and anyone who has been on the fringes of his fanbase and wants to learn more. Together with his long term sparring partner's 'Psychedelic Pill', my favourite release of the past year or two by quite some distance.