Sunday, 19 October 2008

"Songs For Beginners" by GRAHAM NASH (October 2008 Rhino CD and DVD AUDIO 2-Disc Set) - A Review by Mark Barry...





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"…I Watched You Go Through Changes That No Man Should Face Alone…"

With Stephen Stills and David Crosby having produced absolute storming debut albums in November 1970 and March 1971, Graham Nash's quietly lovely opener didn't disappoint either. In fact in the early Seventies - it seemed like everything the combined and individual talents of CSYN did was magical.

This October 2008 2-Disc DELUXE EDITION of "Songs For Beginners" by GRAHAM NASH on Rhino/Atlantic 8122-79949-3 (Barcode 081227994938) celebrates his June 1971 debut album with a Remastered Stereo Remix of the stand alone first disc - while the second disc is a 5.1 DVD Audio Mix. You need a DVD player to hear the second disc that contains a DVD Interview about his Photography featuring a Gallery of Stills, Photo-Backed Lyrics & Web Links.

"Songs For Beginners" was released in June 1971 on Atlantic SD 7204 in the USA and Atlantic 2401 011 in the UK. The album featured many famous guests (one is uncredited), so here's a detailed breakdown (33:47 minutes):

1. Military Madness 
[DAVE MASON of Traffic on Guitar with RITA COOLIDGE on Backing Vocals]
2. Better Days 
[NEIL YOUNG (credited as Joe Yankee) on Piano, SEEMON POSTHUMA of THE FOOL on Clarinet, RITA COOLIDGE on Backing Vocals with DALLAS TAYLOR of CSYN and MANASSAS on Drums]
3. Wounded Bird 
[GN all instruments and voices]
4. I Used To Be A King 
[NEIL YOUNG (credited as Joe Yankee) on Piano, JERRY GARCIA on Steel Guitar with PHIL LESH on Bass (both of THE GRATEFUL DEAD) and DAVID CROSBY on Electric Guitar]
5. Be Yourself 
[RITA COOLIDGE on Piano, Electric Piano and Backing Vocals]
6. Simple Man 
[DAVID LINDLEY on Fiddle, DORIAN RUDNYTSKY of THE NEW YORK ROCK & ROLL ENSEMBLE on Cello with RITA COOLIDGE on backing Vocals]
7. Man In The Mirror 
[NEIL YOUNG [credited as Joe Yankee] on Piano, JERRY GARCIA of THE GRATEFUL DEAD on Steel Guitar, CHRIS ETHERIDGE of THE FLYING BURRITO BROTHERS on Bass]
8. There's Only One 
[RITA COOLIDGE on Piano & Backing Vocals, CHRIS ETHERIDGE on Bass, BOBBY KEYS on Saxophone with VANETTA FIELDS, SHIRLEY MATTHEWS, CLYDIE KING & DOROTHY MORRISON on Backing Vocals (The Blackberries)]
9. Sleep Song 
[DAVE MASON on Guitar with RITA COOLIDGE on Backing Vocals]
10. Chicago 
[DORIAN RUDNYTSKY on Cello]
11. We Can Change The World 
[RITA COOLIDGE, VANETTA FIELDS...DOROTHY MORRISON on Backing Vocals]

The 20-page booklet has an essay on the album and its star-studded background by noted writer DAVID FRICKE - it features Session Photos, Lyrics, Detailed recording and reissue credits - and even a picture of the master tapes.

But for fans the big news is the SOUND. The CD album has been Stereo Remixed & Remastered and the quality isn't just good - it's fabulous - BREATHTAKING.  "Better Days" has a very quiet Piano and Vocal Intro - it's spotlessly clean - and when the band kicks in - it's an absolute wow! The mastering is credited to DOUG SAX and SANGWOOK NAM at The Mastering Lab, Ojai - and they should both be Grammy nominated for it. "Days" is followed by the Acoustic and Vocal-only of "Wounded Bird" (a song for Stephen Stills and Judy Collins and their troubled relationship) and it's a lovely as it gets - BEAUTIFULLY restored. The delicately aching Cello work of Dorian Rudnytsky combines with Rita Coolidge's Backing Vocals on "Simple Man" to genuinely touching effect, while Jerry Garcia's Steel Guitar on "Man In the Mirror" adds a lot from an instrument you wouldn't expect from him. And on three tracks there's Neil Young - plinking away - putting in genuinely superb Piano work (he was credited as Joe Yankee for legal reasons). 

I find the 2nd disc, however, problematic. I don't have a DVD AUDIO player and 99% of the planet doesn't either - it's a dead format. Disc 2 features the entire album in Advanced Resolution 5.1 Surround Sound, Dolby Digital & DTS - wonderful stuff guys - if I could play it! But the really disappointing part is the complete lack of anything new - no outtakes, no demos - not even a live recording. However - and although it's completely unrelated to the album - things improve on the DVD part of the disc - it contains an interview with Nash about his lifetime obsession with black and white photography - and its fascinating - a lovely man, intelligent, sensitive - and you suspect a real peacekeeper among huge egos that often got out of hand. Then there's the gallery of images (he explains many of them in the interview) - I won't spoil it too much for those who are going to buy this except to say that there are captured moments on here of Joni, Neil, Stills and especially his lifetime pal David Crosby that will reduce some people to tears.

To sum up - a beautifully realized first disc - with a slightly odd and unrepresentative 2nd. Still - for fans of the album - this is a no brainer - the gorgeous remaster means you simply have to own it...
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