He's been part of two huge-selling international superstar rock groups, and recorded some very popular albums on his own and with David Crosby. Yet Graham Nash has never been thought of as a talent in his own right the way that, to varying degrees, either of his three bandmates in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young have. This three-CD, 64-track box set can be seen as both a way of focusing the spotlight on Nash's work both within and outside of his famous bands, and also as a career retrospective of sorts, spanning as it does about 40 years of recordings. Like almost all such box sets, however, it won't be as balanced as everyone would like between his various career phases and contexts, or contain as much in the way of revelatory rarities as some would hope. To start with the set's strengths, certainly it includes virtually all of the material for which Nash is most known as a songwriter, and to some degree as a lead singer. All of the major songs he wrote as part of CSN (or CSNY) are here in their celebrated official versions, prominent among them "Marrakesh Express," "Pre-Road Downs," "Our House," and "Teach Your Children." So is his sole Top 40 hit single, "Chicago"; highlights from his first/best/most commercially successful solo album, Songs for Beginners; and numerous tracks from his collaborative efforts with Crosby. The 150-page booklet has lots of photos and insightful comments on each track by Nash himself.
It should be noted, however, that although half of cuts are previously unreleased, about two-thirds of these are alternate mixes of officially issued tracks, not actual alternate versions or recordings previously unavailable in any form. Among the genuinely alternate versions/previously unreleased recordings, only a 1969 solo acoustic demo of "Right Between the Eyes" rates as a notable find, though a live 1993 version of "Liar's Nightmare" (with Nils Lofgren on guitar) and the Fast Times at Ridgemont High soundtrack contribution "Love Is the Reason" count as interesting rarities. Even considering that he didn't have sole songwriting credits until joining CSN, the Hollies period seems underrepresented, with just three tracks by that group finding inclusion (all 1967 hits, including the one on which Nash's songwriting ambitions were most evident, "King Midas in Reverse"). And there's no denying that disc one, with the highlights of his late-'60s/early-'70s work, is by far the best of the three CDs, much of the rest coming off as undistinguished in comparison. It's the music on the first disc for which Nash will mostly be remembered. His subsequent output, as documented on the remainder of the set, was too often ordinary soft rock that, unlike his earlier work, did not capture either the musical or cultural Zeitgeist. It's also true that, for CSN fans in particular, it can seem odd hearing so much Nash-dominated material at once when it works so much better interspersed with the compositions and lead singing of his famous bandmates. Nevertheless, as a songwriter he remained consistently devoted to themes of peace, progressive politics, and adult romance, even when those weren't fashionable to promote as idealistically as Nash has. For all its ups and downs, this is the release likely to most effectively spotlight and summarize the contributions to rock music that he's made as a singer/songwriter.