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Thursday, June 6, 2024


California, here they come!

Crosby, Stills & Nash

Crosby, Stills & Nash 

Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab – UD1S 2-021, Limited Edition, (2022, Dec.), #5540 of 12 000. 

Originally released on Atlantic – SD-8229 (1969, May)


Global Appreciation: 8.8

- Music: A-

- Recording: (6.7- 9) 7.8 

- Remastering + Lacquer Cutting: 9.2

- Pressing: 9.5

- Packaging: Deluxe 

Category: folk rock, country rock, psychedelic rock, acoustic, hint of jazz vibes.

Format: Vinyl (2x180 gram LPs at 45 rpm).

Evaluated by Claude Lemaire

Fifty-four years ago, Woodstock held one of the biggest music festivals in history. Not only did it represent the peak of the counterculture movement of the 1960s, many of the thirty-two acts which performed during that weekend showed a strong focus on folk and its close cousin hybrid, folk rock. Credit goes to The Animals for the first to fuse folk with rock with their bluesy take on the traditional folk song "The House of the Rising Sun" back in 1964. 

The following year, alienating folk fans and bringing in new ones, Bob Dylan ditched part of his acoustic set, and plugged electric on Bringing It All Back Home which featured among many classics, the original version of "Mr. Tambourine Man", soon taking flight by the Byrds' huge hit. 

The band kept spreading its wings with such songs as "Turn! Turn! Turn!", and the psychedelic-infused "Eight Miles High" taken from their third LP Fifth Dimension.

Within the group was singer-songwriter and guitarist David Crosby who stayed on board up to The Notorious Byrd Brothers. The 1968 album showcased the broad experimentation with folk rock, psychedelia, and country. The latter genre had its headquarters deep in Nashville while the emerging confluence with rock, relegated the psychedelic movement to the fringes. 

I'm a little bit country. And I'm a little bit rock 'n roll...

Crossing multiple borders, Los Angeles-based Buffalo Springfield featured among others, Canadian Neil Young and American Steven Stills. Both men would be part of one of the first and arguably most popular 'supergroups' of all time: Crosby, Stills & Nash–as Young joined the trio only on their second album, Déjà vu. British born Graham Nash, formerly of The Hollies completed this winning formula. 

In retrospect, one can appreciate the latter group's tight harmonies infusing their compositions. CSN's self-titled debut landed in May 1969, just two and a half months prior to their historic appearance at Woodstock on the last day of the festival at 3 a.m. Monday morning. The album featured ten tracks, including "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes"–based on the relationship between Stills and singer-songwriter Judy Collins–, "Marrakesh Express", "Guinnevere", "Wooden Ships", "Lady of the Island", and "Helplessly Hoping". With its many melodic and intricate three-part harmonies, it would greatly influence such groups as America, the Eagles, and closer to home, Québec's own Harmonium. 

All on boooard the trainnn... 

Bill Halverson engineered the album at Wally Heider Studio 3 in Hollywood between February and March 1969. 

It was Halverson's first entire album recording project, which may explain in part why it sounds uneven, with some songs and elements coming out great while in other instances, less so. These mostly due to questionable mixing, compressing and limiting levels plus over bright EQ choices on his part. Within the trio, Steven Stills exercised a prominent role as he played guitar, bass, keyboards, and percussion, whereas Crosby and Nash were mainly on vocals and guitar, though all three took on production duties. 

Drummers Dalas taylor and Jim Gordon augmented the group on some songs. The album has its charm by blending musical ingredients from folk rock, country rock, and even small doses of psychedelic rock and jazz vibes to spice up the winning recipe rich in memorable melodies.

Mofi's deluxe box contained the usual items and 'Ultradisc' presentation style we are now accustomed to. 

Engineer Krieg Wunderlich remastered and cut the four set of lacquers at 45 rpm from the 1/4 inch / 15 IPS analog master converted to DSD 256 in accordance with their 'One Step' method. In the dead wax of my copy is inscribed KW@MoFi' plus A6; B6; C10; and D8 respectively, indicating which cutting 'cycle' were used to make the converts for this run. All four sides were visually glossy, and black, though when held up to the light you can still see through it. Pressings were done at RTI on the slighly translucent 180g "High-Definition SuperVinyl" formula by Neotech. They played nearly perfect with just a few tics on the second record that could be caused by static, and often disappear with time.

I did not have the original US pressing–nor the 45 rpm 200g Classic Records cut by Bernie Grundman in 2005–but did have the Canadian second pressing 'red label' as a basis for comparison. The latter is not a very good mastering, often sounding coarse and grainy in the acoustic guitars and voices. These tend to overpower the drums and bass in the rather compressed and limited mix. Definitely not a demo-worthy record. By contrast the MoFi is an enormous improvement over my old pressing. It is not perfect from start to finish for sure but once you hear them back to back, there is no ambiguity as to which one is more balanced and pleasant. 

The first record of the MoFi set–the original LP's side A–is the most impressive, with generous bass, decent drum sounds, great guitar detail, and outstanding clear vocals, eliminating the previous treble grain. Tonal balance is wide, ranging between warm and slightly crisp depending on songs and your setup (cartridge type, speakers, etc.). I enjoyed it but would have welcomed a touch more sweetness in the top end to be real finicky. 

The second record, sides C and D, seemed in some instances more of a challenge with the vocals pushed too forward in the mix, causing some form of edginess. This was especially apparent on "Wooden Ships" when all three vocals enter at once the center stage. It is unfortunate because just before that happens, the first vocal we hear in the right channel is mild and perfectly balanced in the mix, as is the second vocal entrance on the left where the utter transparency provided by MoFi's One Step transfer gives us a degree of "you are there" realism rarely heard on record, it is shockingly real! While on the closing track, "49 Bye-Byes", the drum's ride cymbal has a disagreeable narrow-band ring to it which is apparent also on my Canadian pressing. That seems to confirm that certain parts of the original 16-track recording were fantastic and very well recorded while certain isolated instrument EQs and the final stereo mixdown were compromised, explaining why MoFi could only do so much with the two-track tape. I tried fiddling with my cartridge's VTF for a few hundredths of a gram to find the sweet spot between ultimate transparency and a more forgiving balance, which while not correcting everything, did mildly alleviate the conundrum at hand. That said, it is only sections and never the full duration of the song.  

To be continued in part-2...      


David Crosby – vocals, guitar, rhythm guitar

Stevens Stills – vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, percussion. 

Graham Nash – vocals, rhythm guitar, acoustic guitar.

Additional Personnel:

Dallas Taylor – drums.

Jim Gordon – drums

Cass Elliot – backing vocals.

Additional credits:

Produced by Crosby, Stills & Nash.

Recorded in February and March 1969 at Wally Heider Studio 3 in Hollywood. 

Engineered by Bill Halverson.

Remastered and lacquer cut by Krieg Wunderlich and assisted by Rob LoVerde at Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab in Sebastopol, CA.

Plated and Pressed by RTI, CA, USA.

Art direction, design by Gary Burden.

Photography by Henry Diltz.

Spiritual guidance by Ahmet Ertegün

Reference List (Singles, albums, and labels): 

"The House of the Rising Sun" [MGM Records SE 4264]

Bringing It All Back Home [MoFi MFSL 2-380, Columbia 88697926811]

"Mr. Tambourine Man" [Columbia CL 2372 or CS 9172]

"Turn! Turn! Turn!" [Columbia CL 2454 or CS 9254]

Fifth Dimension [Columbia CS 9349]

The Notorious Byrd Brothers [Columbia CS 9575]

Buffalo Springfield [Atco Records SD 33-200]

Déjà vu [Atlantic SD 7200]

America [Warner Bros. Records BS 2576]

Harmonium [Celebration CEL 1893]

Crosby, Stills & Nash [Classic Records, Atlantic SD-8229-45]


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