Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young – Déjà Vu All Over Again: Box-set Review

CSNY’s magnum opus, Deja Vu, gets the 50th anniversary deluxe reissue treatment – with a treasure trove of alternative versions and works in progress

Release Date:  14th May 2021

Label: Rhino

Formats: 4CD/1 Vinyl LP or 5 Vinyl LPs

Of course, Déjà Vu is one of the undisputed all-time classics; an album that is almost certainly familiar to the vast majority of At The Barrier’s readers and which is fondly revered by most of that majority.  It’s an album that I’ve owned, in various formats, for most of its long existence. It still gets regular turntable time, and I’ve never tired of any of the album’s ten tracks.

So what’s new with this deluxe reissue?  First of all, the presentation of this package is utterly sumptuous.  The whole thing is presented in a 12 x 12 hardcover book, illustrated with photographs, many of which have been rarely published, and annotated by writer/filmmaker Cameron Crowe.  Crowe’s notes recount the making of the album through stories, told by those who were there.  The original album is included in pristine form, both on an 180-gram vinyl LP and on a CD, plus there are 3 further CDs covering, respectively, demo versions of songs that made it onto Déjà Vu and songs that emerged on members’ solo albums, out-take versions of a whole range of songs and, finally, a disc of alternative versions of the Déjà Vu songs (including a couple of really corking versions…).

So why all the fuss?  Déjà Vu is, without doubt, a fantastic, all-time classic album.  It was released in March 1970 and was the eagerly anticipated and awaited follow-up to the eponymous Crosby, Stills and Nash album of May 1969, an album packed to the rafters with everything from counterculture anthems (Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, Long Time Gone), apocalyptic science fiction (Wooden Ships) and even a fluffy pop hit (Marrakesh Express.)  The original line-up of that first album had been augmented, by Neil Young (who was named as a partner in the combo) and by Greg Reeves (bass) and Dallas Taylor (drums) who weren’t.  But, as always, it was the music that mattered, and Déjà Vu delivered a bucketload of great songs, many of which sit comfortably amongst the best that the partnership ever produced. 

Stills, in particular, was on great form and his songs – notably opening track Carry On and the stunning 4+20 – rank easily amongst the best of his prolific career.  Add to that Crosby’s classic period piece – Almost Cut My Hair and the title track, Déjà Vu, Nash’s sweet but wonderful Our House and Teach Your Children and the simmering version of Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock which, even after 50 years, seems to improve with every hearing and you’ve already got a great album.  Of course, a key attraction of that glorious debut album was the trademark harmony singing, and, on Déjà Vu, Crosby, Stills and Nash deliver more – much more – of the same.

I’ve always questioned whether Neil Young’s contributions to the album sit quite as comfortably with the album’s concept as do those of his bandmates.  Without question, the two songs he contributed – Helpless and Country Girl – are both excellent, but I’ve always imagined that they would have been more at home on one of Young’s subsequent solo albums – either After the Goldrush or Harvest.  The story goes that CSN realized that they needed another instrumentalist fill out their sound and it was only after the intervention of Atlantic Label Head Ahmet Ertegun that they (Stills in particular) were persuaded to invite Neil along – an invitation he accepted on condition that he was made a named partner (incidentally – other musicians that were considered by the band for this role included John Sebastian and Steve Winwood!)  I ‘ve also heard tell that, whilst Crosby, Stills and Nash were all prolific in submitting material for consideration on Déjà Vu (a belief that is strongly borne out by the sources of the additional material in this new collection) Neil was holding back his best material for his solo albums.  But, so what?

I’ve always harboured a belief that Deluxe Sets can tend to overdo things, particularly when they include multiple versions of the same songs at various stages of their development, or with different vocalists or guitar solos to the versions included in the final version.  I‘ve always been able to accept that the band and their producer select the versions that make the final cut of the album for good and obvious reasons and the novelty of sitting through ten versions, even of a song I like, is an activity that quickly loses its novelty value.  However, in the case of Déjà Vu – All Over Again, things are a little different.  Sure, there are still multiple versions of the songs (Our House, for example, features five times in all) but amongst those alternative versions and out-takes, some real gems can be found.

For example, the alternative take of 4+20 on disc four of the set is wonderful, with Stills delivering a spine-tingling vocal that easily matches the quality of the version included on the original album.  Exactly the same can be said for the alternative vocal on the disc four take of Woodstock.  Another very welcome surprise is the demo version of Our House with a vocal contribution from Joni Mitchell, the lady who inspired the song in the first place.

It’s also very interesting to hear the band tackling songs that were brought along by the various partners for consideration but which, ultimately, ended up on the band members’ various solo albums – songs like Nash’s Sleep Song, which appeared on his 1971 solo effort, Songs for Beginners, Crosby’s Song With No Words and Laughing, both of which surfaced on his excellent solo debut If I Could Only Remember My Name and a whole raft of songs from the prolific Stills, such as Bluebird Revisited and Church (Part of Someone) which were soon to appear in revamped forms on his Stephen Stills, Stephen Stills 2 and Manassas albums.

To conclude:  Déjà Vu – All Over Again is a stunningly presented set and a worthy anniversary tribute to a genuine milestone album.  There’s a lot of extra stuff that will appeal strongly to the followers of Crosby, Stills and Nash – both individually and collectively – and some of those extras truly deserve to be heard.  Fans of Neil Young will reap a more fruitful Harvest by perusing his Archives series.  For me, the key element of this whole package is the vinyl version of the original album because that represents the purest reproduction of a classic album that, really and truly, can’t be improved.

Watch a live video of Crosby, Stills and Nash (without Young) perform their classic song Teach Your Children, a track from the Déjà Vu album, here:

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