February 2009

Graham Nash - Songs for Beginners
Atlantic/Rhino R2 352372
Formats: CD and DVD-Audio
Originally released: 1971
Reissue released: 2008

by Rad Bennett

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

In 1971, Graham Nash, former singer with the Brit band The Hollies, now working with Crosby, Stills, and Nash, recorded his first solo effort. He had lots of help from his friends. David Crosby was on hand, as was Neil Young, billed as Joe Yankee, and guest artists included Rita Coolidge, Jerry Garcia, and David Lindley. One might think such a star-studded crew would produce a lot of brilliant bombast, but the album turned out to be a set of some of the finest introspective ballads ever written, bookended by two protest songs that would become synonymous with the hippie peace movement. Fury without shouting.

The result of this two-disc reissue raises the issue of restoration. We expect the multichannel DVD-Audio tracks to diverge from the original, and that they do, in a significant and satisfactory way. Nash is front and center with main instruments in the other front channels, while the surround channels are used for backing vocals and instruments. One can say that this might be the way it would have been done back in the day if the technology had existed. Also on the DVD-Audio disc, a video interview with Nash gives great insight into his parallel career as a black-and-white still photographer. His photos of David Crosby are astonishing in their depth.

But what of the stereo remix on the CD? Some people are going to hate it, while others, probably a younger crowd, will love it. Instruments have been repositioned and spotlighted, the drums, in particular, have heightened importance, the little vocal bit for the opening of "Military Madness," which gave one the feeling of eavesdropping at a session, is gone. So is the homespun charm of the original mix. Because this is a two-disc set, and presumably a final statement, it surely would have been possible to include both the original and the remix on the CD. I agree that we all have to move on, but there’s a place for nostalgia, too, and everything to its own place in history. This set missed that point, and as if to prove it, the original CD is now selling for well over its original price on used-disc sites.