Crosby, Stills & Nash released a stunning and commercially successful debut album which elevated them into the upper echelon of the rock pantheon. So what did they do for an encore? They added Neil Young to their line-up.
Déjà Vu took about six months to record and was finally released in March of 1970. The group made the wise decision to hire drummer Dallas Taylor and bassist Greg Reeves, both providing a solid foundation for the music and giving the group a more complete feel. They may not have been equal members but they are nevertheless pictured on the album cover.
Déjà Vu features excellent musicianship, strong songwriting skills, and crystal-clear harmonies. It also rocks more than its preceding release — probably due to Young’s presence — and three of its tracks became top forty hits. It all added up to one of the lasting and better albums in rock history.
“Carry On,” written by Stephen Stills, leads off the album and sets the tone for what will follow. The harmonies are in place and Stills’ guitar work is exemplary. Jerry Garcia provides some supportive pedal steel guitar as well. The song is a wonderful example of American pop/rock at its best.
Graham Nash contributed two classic tracks. “Teach Your Children” is a poignant and gentle, speaking of the passing of knowledge to a future generation. “Our House” is a joyful track that sounded very different from much of what was being released in the early seventies. I can’t help but wonder what Graham Nash thinks about the content of these two songs today but the music holds up well.
David Crosby has always been an eclectic songwriter. His “Almost Cut My Hair” is tongue in cheek but the title song is excellent. His and Stills guitar work fit together well and the bass work of Reeves is outstanding.
I have never been enamored with Neil Young’s “Country Girl” but his other contribution, “Helpless,” is classic. The electric guitar, the harmonica, and the vocal falsetto all contribute to one of his better performances.
The full band gives Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” a nice workout, taking this folk composition in a rock direction. This song has been recorded dozens of times yet this version is the best of the lot this side of the cover by Matthews Southern Comfort.
Déjà Vu remains a masterpiece and is the creative apex of Crosby, Stills, Nash and (sometimes) Young. They would continue to release relevant and in places excellent music but would never be as consistently brilliant again. It remains an essential piece of the seventies.