If you accept Graham Nash on his own terms, which is simply as a nice guy who somehow wound up a musician, then you probably find him to be an agreeable sort. Add a sharp ear for melody, a pleasant voice that tends to grow on you, and a surprisingly restrained and beautiful production, and you have a good sense of what Songs for Beginners is all about.
The material, with a few notable exceptions, doesn't vary between any poles of great or terrible. Nash has the ability to write a decent and believable love song, and when he can avoid obvious cliches long enough to keep the choruses from sounding trite, he turns in the best moments on the album: "Simple Man," spare and lovely, with the tail-end of "Wounded Bird" following close behind.
Not as successful as "Be Yourself," whose title is explanatory, and "Man In The Mirror," which contains an immortal line telling us how "All my hang-ups are down." "Chicago," which I assume is a Nash political move on the order of Neil Young's excellent "Ohio," is really the album's low-point; somehow, the specter of Graham singing "We can change the world" at the gates of what Eldridge Cleaver fondly calls Babylon puts me completely on the floor. Saying much the same thing in at least a more tasteful way is the album opener, "Military Madness," which is noteworthy if only to hear Nash intone "Mil-i-tree" and "Sol-i-tree" in that selfsame accent which lit-rally made the Hollies the success they were 'way back when.
But if the songs themselves are mainly middle level, it's what Nash has done with them that proves the racer's edge on this album. Unlike most of his contemporaries in the Alexandrian Quartet axis, Graham's tracks never seem cluttered, filled with drifting superstars who serve no apparent purpose except to provide good liner copy. Instead, each cut seems sparse, put together with a hand that knew just when and where to leave things out, and at times, this special kind of taste manages to change even the most innocuous of his material into something definitely pleasurable. While this may never be my favorite album, I'm not going to cringe whenever my upstairs neighbors put it on as part of their continuing CSN&Y; festival. If you're not with the one you love, then you might as well love the one you're with. Or something like that. (RS 87)
(Posted: Jul 22, 1971)
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