Tribute albums usually reflect an artist's wide-ranging influence and reputation. Be Yourself doesn't exactly fit into that category. Rather than merely celebrate Graham Nash as an artist, this set pays tribute to his first solo album, Songs for Beginners, released in 1971. Co-produced and spearheaded by Nile Nash (Graham's daughter) and Britt Govea, the pair have chosen a slate of artists to re-create the album in its proper running order. Contributors include Bonnie Prince Billy, Brendan Benson, Vetiver, Robin Pecknold, Alela Diane, Mariee Sioux (with Greg Weeks), the Moore Brothers, Sleepy Sun, Port O'Brien, and Papercuts. Nile Nash performs as well. Songs for Beginners was recorded in the aftermath of Nash's breakup with Joni Mitchell, the temporary breakup of CSNY, the escalation of the Vietnam War, and the waning idealism of the '60s. He created a space of quiet in the midst of his turmoil with beautifully articulated and arranged songs and performances that hold up 40 years later. The album produced a hit single in "Military Madness" as well as the anthems "Chicago" and its reprise "We Can Change the World."
Here, Vetiver's "I Used to Be King" is the brightest moment, but the set's quality is surprisingly consistent. Benson's "Better Days" captures the disillusionment of the original version with a country-rock arrangement. "Military Madness" has been redefined for the indie rock generation thanks to a seamless collaborative reading from Port O'Brien and Papercuts; Nile Nash's "Wounded Bird" rings empathically -- if plaintively -- true. Pecknold's version of the title track contains some gorgeous backing vocals (all his) that evoke CSN's. Diane's read of "There's Only One" is stellar in its emotional revelation. Sleepy Sun's "Chicago" rocks harder than anything here and reveals the anger inherent in the history the song bears, but is then transformed by the reprise of Nash' refrain at the album's close; it becomes a paean to solidarity and hope. Re-creating a classic album, especially one this iconic, is no mean feat. Be Yourself maintains (mostly) its inspiration's spirit of quiet and heartfelt honesty, no matter its new interpretations.