By Lee Zimmerman
Déjà Vu defied any play-by-numbers scenario. It was the second to feature David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash as a combined collective but the first that found them expanding to a quartet with the addition of Stills’ old sparring partner in Buffalo Springfield, Neil Young. As such, it was a landmark album, as much so as CSN’s much-heralded eponymous debut. Each member of the band was given ample opportunity to shine — save bassist Greg Reeves and drummer Dallas Taylor, who were, naturally, relegated to secondary roles — and each rose to the occasion with some of the best songs of their individual careers. The fact that the material found a fine fit within their collective combine attests not only to their abilities, but also to their cohesive chemistry as well.
Nevertheless, those fragile relationships would be severely tested over the years, leaving a fraught tangle of ego, anger and temperament that persists to this day. Aside from the live 4 Way Street that followed a year later, it would be another 18 years before the full foursome would reunite for the much-belated American Dream. Other attempts would be made, but ultimately only three studio albums would emerge from the quartet and, it seems, just barely at that.
Consequently, Déjà Vu represents the essential CSNY offering, not only because it provided a rare moment of solidarity, but also due to the fact that the band were in peak form. There’s not a single track that couldn’t be considered memorable, be it the indomitable “Carry On,” the tender trappings of “Teach Your Children and “Our House,” the stoic sound of “Woodstock,” the lamenting of lost love shared in “Helpless” and “Country Girl” or the haunting and harrowing title track.
All of which explains why this expanded 4-CD/1-LP box set seems so essential. It boasts a generous 29 unreleased tracks, including demos, alternate versions and songs that didn’t make the final cut. Many of the offerings would end up on individual solo albums, but hearing them here in rudimentary form and the earliest stages of development is a fascinating glimpse into the group’s creative trajectory and reason enough to acquire this compilation, cost be damned.
There are revelations here as well, most of which come courtesy of Nash’s unreleased offerings — the lighthearted demo of “Our House” with his muse Joni Mitchell, barebones versions of “Teach Your Children” and “Right Between the Eyes,” and two unreleased takes of “Horses Through a Rainstorm,” a song written and later recorded by English rocker Terry Reid and rendered here as a solo demo and as a CSNY outtake. Crosby also shines with a solo take on his expressive ballad “The Lee Shore,” although early reads of “Almost Cut My Hair” do little to enhance the song’s attempt at gravitas.
Stills’ outings encompass the bulk of the disc of outtakes, although the most notable are the two revisits to his Buffalo Springfield catalog, courtesy of “Know You Got to Run” and “Bluebird Revisited.” Young’s only semi-solo offering is a rough-cut demo of “Birds” sung with Nash.
Cameron Crowe and Joel Bernstein’s essay and liner notes, included in the pull-out booklet, are well worth the price of admission alone, and with a host of archival photos, it provides an excellent in-depth opportunity to share the backstory of the quartet’s early origins.
Ultimately then, Rhino has outdone itself with this expanded box, giving the quartet’s admirers a treasure trove of gems that supplement the original offerings. There’s no better way to celebrate Déjà Vu all over again.