Stephen Stills

Just Roll Tape: April 26th, 1968

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When listening to this rather remarkable document, it becomes alarmingly clear what the post-Buffalo Springfield Stephen Stills brought to the partnership of Crosby, Stills & Nash. This 13-song set was recorded solo with an acoustic in a recording studio in 1968, preceding by a few months the first CS&N recording (he bribed a recording engineer after a Judy Collins session). According to Stills' brief liner notes, the tape had been lost for nearly 40 years, until the release of this edition. Meaning, of course, that these versions of these songs haven't been widely available on the bootleg circuit, either. The tracks contain early versions of cuts recorded in the trio such as "Suite: Judy Blues Eyes," "Helplessly Hoping," and "Wooden Ships." But these are near the very end of the collection. There are also a number of cuts here that Stills recorded on his solo records such as "Black Queen" from his self-titled debut, "Change Partners" and "Know You Got to Run" from Two Originals, "So Begins the Task" from Manassas, and even a very earlier and much longer version of "Treetop Flyer" with Stills playing dobro. In addition to the better-known material are the haunting "The Doctor Will See You Now," the melancholy yet tender melodrama of "Dreaming of Snakes," and "Judy," a short tune that is, coincidentally and perhaps, a precursor to the "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes." These are demos, unpolished, unfinished, sketches -- albeit most of them fully realized -- of classic material. It's unexplainable as to why some of the unreleased material didn't ultimately make it onto finished records: quality is not the issue. The sound is a little distorted and uneven but the quality is very good considering this tape sat basically neglected for nearly four decades. Sadly, the sheer quality of the material, even in this raw state, also brings into the glaring light of day the fact that Stills is now but a ghost of his former self creatively. His reunion appearances with CS&N and CSN&Y, and latter recordings reveal his songwriting well to be run dry. One has to wonder if he could ever again be so inspired and what it might take. (Many still wonder what inspired Dylan to scale the heights once more after a long period of lackluster recordings.) Nonetheless, Stills' lack of good material in later years doesn't diminish his lasting contribution. The work from those early years is so substantial that his songs remain a watermark for anyone who aspires to be a songwriter.

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