Saturday, June 9, 2012

June 9: Crosby, Stills, And Nash, "Crosby, Stills, And Nash"

Artist: Crosby, Stills, And Nash
Album: Crosby, Stills, And Nash
Year: 1969
Label: Atlantic

Though they are exceptionally few and far between, there are a handful of albums from the overall history of recorded music that simply serve as landmark moments, almost always defining a certain time period.  In many cases, albums of this nature are so starkly different than anything else at the time that they cannot help but be revolutionary.  Yet at the same time, there are a few records that were not so dissimilar from the mainstream, but at the same time are so vastly beyond the music of their peers that they almost instantly attain an iconic status.  Case in point: during the tail-end of the 1960’s, so many new sounds and combinations of musical styles were emerging that one can argue that it was those who managed to put the most unique products into their own musical formula that stood as the most famous.  But it was in the final year of this decade where one of the most groundbreakingly beautiful albums was released,  Though they had already made their musical brilliance known over the previous few years, most memorably during the legendary Woodstock Music And Arts Festival, the trio known as Crosby, Stills, And Nash had yet to reach “the masses” with their sound, and their debut record was easily one of the most highly anticipated of the era.  Filled with some of the most simple, yet unquestionably gorgeous textures and harmonies ever captured on tape, there is not another album from any point in music history that quite measures up to the self-titled 1969 debut from Crosby, Stills, And Nash.

While other bands of the era were attempting to find new ways to involve the most recent recording and instrumental technology, as well as sheer volume in their music, Crosby, Stills, And Nash proved that there was something to be said for simplicity, and their country-folk based sounds resonate more than forty years later.  It is the way that the trio of guitars intertwine, proving that no additional instrumentation is needed for sufficient impact that sets their sound apart from others, and at the same time there is a groove that runs through a majority of the tracks on this album.  There is such a phenomenal balance of sonic textures and moods on every song that you cannot help but get caught up in the sound, and at many points, the music is able to transport the listener back to the era during which the songs were recorded.  But it is that groove, that spirit that exists within these songs that defines the sound of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and it is rarely as perfect as on the albums’ iconic opening track, “Judy Blue Eyes.”  There is a pace and a tone running throughout the song that lends an extraordinary sense of movement, and one can almost feel the revolutionary nature of the song just in this aspect.  Yet it is the fact that even with such a seemingly limited instrumentation, the trio are able to give each song its own unique feeling and sound that vaults Crosby, Stills, And Nash to such heights, making it a truly timeless icon of music.

However, the fact of the matter is that while the music all throughout the debut record from Crosby, Stills, And Nash is superb, it is their vocal work all across the record that remains nothing short of legendary to this day.  In many ways, simply mentioning this trio brings to mind some of the most influential and outright gorgeous harmonies ever captured on tape; and yet the reality stands that the actual approach the trio took to this vocal style was rather non-traditional.  In most cases, harmonized vocals take different octaves and blend them together, but it is the way that David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash seem to layer their sounds directly on top of one another that has such a stunning impact on the listener.  It was this purposeful concentration on the beauty in the act of singing that would cause a massive shift in the overall trends of popular music; and while many other acts attempted this same approach, none ever came close to the sonic bliss found on every track.  But at the same time, Crosby, Stills, and Nash benefited from the fact that they were all also extraordinarily talented lyricists; and this combined with their voices make them a truly unstoppable trio.  Whether they were speaking on the ideas of true love, the horrors of war, or what remains one of the most moving responses to the assassination of Robert Kennedy, there is never a shortage of engaging, insightful lyrics.  It is the way that the trio perfectly deploy emotion and sonic power with their voices to bring out each and every word and meaning that makes this record nothing short of flawless.

All across the 1960’s, one can find albums from every genre that would remain massively influential throughout the decades that followed.  Whether it was due to a revolutionary approach in terms of musical construction, new possibilities in instrumentation, or simply finding a new way to address topics within society, there is no question that the decade remains one of the most vibrant in terms of sheer artistic creation.  Yet it is the fact that the debut album from Crosby, Stills, and Nash manages to keep a foot in the older, classic sound, yet has a modern, edgy feel in many ways that sets it so far apart from other recordings of the era.  The trio rarely held back within their lyrics, and the spirit that runs underneath every song on Crosby, Stills, And Nash is everything that makes music exciting and enjoyable.  It is the way that the guitars intertwine with one another, providing both the rhythm and melody to the song, that inspired an entire generation of new musicians, also cementing the idea that folk music had found its way back into the musical mainstream.  But along with this, it is the dazzling vocal harmonies that the trio deploys on every song which makes the record truly unforgettable, and one can make the case that without this album, scores of later groups would have never developed in the manner that they did.  While in modern times, their names may be seen as largely that of nostalgia, the truth remains that the trio known as Crosby, Stills, And Nash forever altered the entire landscape of music, and their self-titled 1969 debut album remains one of the most breathtakingly beautiful records ever released.

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