CROSBY, STILLS & NASH sit in a strange place in the modern pop world. On the one hand, if you wanted to hire them to headline the last night of your Midwest sales convention, you could probably get them to come and croak out the golden greats in return for plane fare and some organic weed in the dressing room. On the other hand, the old groaners are back producing low-key, harmony-strewn music of the highest order. As their recent reunion with Neil Young proves, they've not only survived but worn a lot better than most of their highly touted contemporaries; they're still devoted to seminal folk rather than self-parody. True, it's all as rock 'n' roll as Jesse Helms, but so what? Revenge is one of the great sweeteners in the life of the 60-year-old hippie, and these three have lived through all the muck, malice, and denigration chucked at them by critics and—in Crosby's case—police. Though some of the standards are, well, standard, CSN still manage the rare feat of combining commercial success with credibility: the best of showbiz and protest all at once.
Since their oblique 1970 masterpiece, D骠 Vu, CSN (and sometimes Y) have made just a handful of albums in between the well-publicized busts, crack-ups, hospitalizations, and lucrative reunion tours. At their worst, the records are a ragbag of elderly tunes couched in the band's distinctive a cappella stylings. In peak form, CSN are still fully capable of hammering old-fashioned riffs to genuinely subversive politicking. A typical gig might involve acoustic-based love songs, nursery rhyme-like gibberish, and plenty of herbal-tea breaks, but also Crosby's utopian-socialist tirades and some well-aimed rants about Bush. Add multioctave voices and the sweetest guitar since Mike Bloomfield self-destructed, and you begin to see what the fuss was all about in the first place.
This is pop as it should be, collecting myriad influences and making something fresh, if not quite new, out of them. Despite some dodgy moments, CSN remain a good night out that splices together slabs of mild experimentation with a general restatement of first principles. Received wisdom says the trio are either determinedly right-on brown-rice-and-sandal museum pieces or a slice of modern American culture as classic as Dylan or Springsteen. In fact, they're both—with the hits to prove it. Here are at least three darlings of the Woodstock generation who bring enough of their own sonic goodies to the party to raise the gig above a mere retro theme night. What's more, they've just cut their most consistently enjoyable songs in decades. Anyone brave enough to make it to the Gorge on the first Friday in fall can look forward to a few novelties mixed in with the sublime power-folk chestnuts from the archives, a Turin shroud of the last gasps of late '60s activism. All relics, maybe, but through them all course those distinctive choirboy harmonies. CSN sing softly, but they still carry a big chorus.