CSN&Y…Deja Vu Box Set (Review)

We have all been here before.  We’re experiencing Deja Vu again, only a lot more of it.  Fifty-one years after the 1970 release of Deja Vu, comes the 50th Anniversary Deluxe box set.  The recordings are remastered (not remixed), and the list price is $100.  The vinyl record and Disc One have the songs that were on the original album.

The review covers the other 3 CD’s that have 38 mostly *unreleased recordings. (Click or zoom lists to enlarge.)

Box sets like these might seem like “money grabs” by the labels, but serious fans want to hear how the songs developed, and what other songs were being worked on during the album sessions.  Plus, fans can simply listen to these songs on whatever streaming service they use. 

(Graham Nash, Dallas Taylor, Stephen Stills, David Crosby, Greg Reeves, and Neil Young)

Before the album was released on May 14th, 2021, an engaging duet of Neil Young’s “Birds” was previewed.  It’s just Neil on guitar and lead vocal, with Graham Nash adding his usual excellent harmonies.  The shame is…that’s the only Neil Young rarity (other than a previously released version of “Helpless”).  Reportedly, Neil had submitted other rarities, but withdrew them (no reason has been revealed).  Young’s Archive series has already covered this era, so what else is he going to do with the unreleased tracks?

Besides “Birds”, the best demo is “So Begins The Task” by Stephen Stills with his beautiful acoustic guitar and young expressive voice.  This song should definitely have made the cut for Deja Vu.  It’s almost unbelievable that Stills held it until his third album, Manassas.  The song is unnecessarily paired with “Hold On Tight”, which he also tries with “Change Partners” later.

David Crosby’s “Deja Vu” is a skeletal demo, but you can hear the potential, and understand why they spent a lot of time developing such a unique song.  There’s also an early alternate mix that sounds good.

John Sebastian was considered as a possible 4th member of CSN before Neil Young was chosen.  Here, Crosby Stills & Nash perform their version of Sebastian’s “How Have You Been”.  Lot’s of harmony and Still’s lead vocal carry it.

An early version of Graham Nash’s “Our House” shows the beauty of the song, even though they hadn’t quite come up with the final harmonies and other aspects of the arrangement.

“Our House” is about when Graham Nash was living with Joni Mitchell in a very very very fine house in Laurel Canyon.  Included is a casual version of the two of them singing it.  When Graham messes up a piano part and swears, Joni laughs, but they finish the song.  The part with the “La-La’s” has Joni singing in kind of a Baroque style.  If these two talented young people had ever recorded “Our House” seriously, it would probably have been the definitive version.

Stephen Still’s “Ivory Tower” outtake is mostly an early version of “Sugar Babe”, which appeared on Still’s second solo album.  It’s a fully produced track, close to being album ready.  It’s surprising they didn’t delete the “right on” Stills threw in as they were going into an instrumental break.  It’s like putting a random “groovy” in a ‘60’s song.

Of the other outtakes, “Change Partners” is pretty good, but it’s really a demo with none of the harmony added yet.  Crosby’s “The Lee Shore” is good, and deserved to be on the album; however, the needed harmony/vocal overdubs were not added until the 1991 CSN box set.  The only other strong outtake is a version of Crosby’s “Laughing”.  It’s done in a style different from the demo, or even the version on Crosby’s first solo album.  Like “The Lee Shore”, this outtake could have made the Deja Vu album if they had added harmony vocals.

On the Alternates disc, the aforementioned “Deja Vu” and “Our House” are good.  “Teach your Children” is good too, but severely misses the pedal steel guitar that was played by Jerry Garcia.  It was a wonderful coincidence that The Grateful Dead were recording in the next studio.  The only other significant outtake is a surprisingly interesting 10-minute version of “Almost Cut My Hair”.  The dual guitars of Stills & Young almost make CSN&Y a jam band.  If you thought David Crosby’s vocal on the original version was a little overwrought, you’ll like this version better.

The conclusion…  It’s always fun to take a deep dive into classic albums from great musicians.  I’ll definitely add some tracks to my CSNY Demos & Rarities playlist.  Admittedly, there are a lot of tracks you may never want to hear again, but fans will certainly want to at least give the set a listen.

Here are photos of my box set:

The cover of the set is beautifully done.  It looks just like the original cover, with a leather-like feel.  The printing is gold embossed, and the picture has the appearance of a separate piece that is attached to the cover.  When the gatefold is opened, the vinyl record & booklet go into the top of the left side, and the four CD’s store on the right.

The “book” is really a record-size 20-page booklet, with lots of very good quality black and white photos.  There’s also a long essay by Cameron Crowe and Joel Bernstein.

(Just another garage band…at Stephen Stills’ place in Laurel Canyon)

What’s missing is detailed information on each song.  Unlike the recent Tom Petty box set (or their own 1991 CSN box set), there is no list of musicians for each track, and no personal comments from the artists about each of the recordings.  That’s disappointing.

There’s a $250 all-vinyl 5-record set available from Rhino and the official CSN&Y site.  It includes the above Alternates album that came out on Record Store Day (June 12th, 2021).  The list price is $30.

How many times have you purchased Deja Vu?  I bought the original album when it was released in 1970.  After it was stolen when I was in college, I bought a new copy.  Then I bought the album when it came out on CD in the 80s.  All the major songs were also included in the 1991 CSN box set I bought.  And now, it’s Deja Vu all over again.

Extra:  For a complete article on the original Deja Vu album, you can click this link:    https://ontherecords.net/2018/08/csny-deja-vu/

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