Graham Nash Weighs In on Déjà vu 51 Years On

Fifty one later Déjà vu still delivers a powerful musical, lyrical and sonic jolt, especially on this newly remastered 50th anniversary set that includes the original record on 180g vinyl mastered by Chris Bellman, cut using the original master tape.

The RIAA certified seven million selling album (more recently bumped up to eight million), released March of 1970 was recorded between July 1969 and January 1970 at Wally Heider’s Studio C in San Francisco. Woodstock (the so-called “gathering of the tribes”) was that August. That was really the first time a generation experienced the “hippie-dom” togetherness (real or faux) that defined the early 1970s.

“The 60s” really happened in the ‘70s. It’s not an exaggeration to suggest that Déjà vu, with its songs of home and family provided by Nash, and Still’s opener “Carry On”—a message to the newly assembled consciousness— both reflected what was seen at Woodstock and set the tone for at least the first half of the decade, never mind that the song “Woodstock” also appears on the album.

As Nash discusses in the audio at the bottom of this review, Neil Young was asked the join in order to move the group from folk to rock and to add a second guitar to the touring lineup. Both Hendrix and Steve Winwood declined.

The always aloof Young doesn’t sing on many tracks and he mostly worked alone as he was also recording After the Gold Rush at another studio—not that Young ever was “a joiner”. Good as were Young’s contributions to this album, it could easily be argued that he brought his “B” material, some of which was recycled Springfield, though of course in most circles his “B” was “A”.

No doubt Stills was hesitant to reunite with Young after his experience in Buffalo Springfield, musically magical though were those two guitars then and here as well. The closer, a Stills/Young collaboration that spliced “Know You Got to Run” with “Everybody I Love You” (to produce “Everybody We Love You”) was perfect for the album and for the times. Fifty plus years later the record remains powerful and as vital as it was when first released. Who today produces the harmonies or the sheer power heard here?

Crosby’s almost comical, though in retrospect existential “Almost Cut My Hair” is the set’s only solo vocal and of course he provides the title tune, with its tricky meter and mystical subject matter.

More interesting for those who have consumed this record for 50 plus years are the three bonus material CDs (the set is also available in an all-vinyl edition though only the original album is AAA). A fourth CD of the remastered album serves as a reminder of why triple A vinyl still sounds and better communicates the music than does CD. At the bottom of this review, listen to the Graham Nash interview AnalogPlanet conducted with Mr. Nash. Do that first!

The well done and organized deluxe packaging features a less “pebbly” textured cover that’s a compromise between the original black and later brown jacket: it’s dark brown, though not quite black. The gatefold opens to reveal the Optimal pressed LP in a left side envelope sporting a sepia-toned cover photo variant. On the right side is a “wall” of four CDs. One contains eighteen song demos, eleven of which have never previously been released. The others were released on other compilations and one, “Horses Through A Rainstorm” co-written by Nash and Terry Reid appeared as “Without Expression” performed by Reid’s group on bang, bang you’re TERRY REID (Epic BN 26427). Another has eleven outtakes (Stills the perfectionist, who of course at the time was creatively on fire insisted upon numerous takes). A third disc contains nine alternate takes and one CD is of the original record.

Much of the bonus material ended up elsewhere in completed versions, including John Sebastian’s “How Have You Been” saga about a turtle stranded on the Long Island Expressway that was a whimsical highlight on his first solo LP, but here for the first time is the original “Know You Got to Run”, and alternative takes of “4+20”, “Woodstock” and many more, all worthy of having been included in the original album.

The set includes a nineteen page well-executed glossy sepia toned booklet—save for the first inner page, which is a full color sun-dappled band shot. Cameron Crowe, with Neil Young archivist Joel Bernstein tells the story of the album’s creation and it makes for a great read accompanied by studio and live performance photos (though for some reason no one caught the misspelling of keyboardist Mark Naftalin’s name, here spelled numerous times as “Natfalin”). The annotation puts in great perspective the turmoil surrounding the album’s creation . The centerfold reproduces the original release’s gatefold image.

As I said to Nash during the interview, I never understood the sepia toned cover photo’s Civil War theme (though as Nash points out he was not so dressed, nor was Young, who wore a Seinfeld-like “frilly pirate shirt”). For starters, The Band did this a year or so earlier and their second album actually had a civil war song! True the contentious making of this album almost caused a civil war, but it never made sense to me other than in the context of the album’s title, in which case many other potentially more interesting and original “we’ve all been here before” visuals might have hatched, but it’s what Stills wanted and given the supercharged music he wrote and produced for the album, why argue? Also confounding was the “early computer style” typeface used for the credits.

As for the original album’s remastered AAA sound, I compared two original Atlantic pressings and the Classic Records reissue to Chris Bellman’s new version. Of course with eight million copies sold, I can’t be sure my two are representative or that either is a “hot stamper” or a “poo poo platter” for that matter, but the two sounded identical though one was pressed at Presswell and the other at ME and I can’t find a reference anywhere to that!

I was wrong to think the Bernie Grundman cut Classic Records edition would sound similar to the new Chris Bellman master because both were cut on the same Scully lathe fitted with a Haeco cutter head, though of course in the interim years BG made other changed to his cutting system.

The Classic and the new version could not sound more different! Now here's an interesting story: Classic's Mike Hobson told me that after licensing the project from Atlantic, the company didn't have the tape in its vaults. He was able to locate it at mastering engineer Joe Gastwirt's Santa Monica, CA facility. Gastwirt found himself in the middle of a custody dispute between the label and Graham Nash who was the official keeper of all tapes CSN and CSN&Y related. Rather than send it to either, he chose to hold onto it until the custody battle was over.

Hobson says he and BG put the tape up on a playback deck and an original LP on the lathe arm and went back and forth. According to Hobson the record had been seriously EQ'd and in many ways sounded very different from the tape. That's the usual reissue label's dilemma: make it sound like the original or make it sound like the tape. From what I can tell they opted for a less EQ'd version but one that was more true to the original release than is the new one.

Bernie’s version was warm, and somewhat soft and round on bottom as was the original. Bellman went for a cleaner and leaner cut while maintaining the vocal suppleness and guitar richness required to keep the harmonies vital and the instruments sounding “in your room”. The new cut’s bottom end sounds fast, taut and fully extended. Grundman’s earlier cut sounds a bit “zoftig” though which you might prefer is taste and system dependent. After I'd written the above description Mr. Hobson sent me Bernie's original mastering notes:

BG's 2003 Déjà vu mastering notes
As you can see, BG's version is pretty much "the tape" with but a few minor adjustments. However, that was BG's cutting system circa 2003. Like your playback system it's probably undergone some major revisions since then. Is that what accounts for the sonic differences? I don't know. Perhaps CB will send his notes and we can compare. The Classic reissue definitely has a warmer midrange, and somewhat softer transients and the bottom end "lingers" a bit longer. Bellman's for whatever reason or reasons, has that leaner, more taut bottom and a somewhat more "modern" sound while maintaining the rich mids found on BG's mastering. Anyone who's compared Kevin Gray's AcousTech mastering with the same title cut at Cohearent knows what a difference a change of electronics (and probably cable) can make. However, without CB's mastering sheet it's all speculation.

My favorite is now this new 50th anniversary edition both for the original album’s "faster" somewhat leaner sound, but especially for the rest of this superbly presented package. Also note that the bonus material has been carefully remixed and mastered and sounds not at all like typical bonus material second rate fare.

As Nash says in the below interview, the Rhino release was prepared by Patrick Milligan, Director of A&R at Rhino Entertainment and photographer Joel Bernstein who is also Neil Young’s official archivist among other things. It’s about as perfect as a 50th anniversary package can be and as perfect as was this album. Revisiting it and experiencing all of the extra material was pure pleasure for today and filled with nostalgia for the 50 years ago first experience. For your kids or grandchildren get them this package and teach them well!

Graham Nash Talks CSN&Y

Music Direct Buy It Now

COMMENTS
Vinyl On Tubes's picture

I know you get 4 CDs. Still. Too rich for my blood. I'll wait for the pressing without the CDs. Today you can get Lou Reed's New York Deluxe for under $50. Even at first release it was under $100 with double vinyl, 3 CDs and a DVD.

Michael Fremer's picture
is also digitally sourced.
jazz's picture

I just try to combine „could not sound more different“ with „The new cut’s bottom end sounds fast, taut and fully extended“ and maintained vocal richness.

„Couldn’t sound more different“ points to more than just bass is affected (as mids seem to sound as rich). Is really just the bottom end different sounding or is it a top to bottom rich/round vs. lean difference?

Michael Fremer's picture
I'm going to add to it. I just had to get it published...I've been sitting on revised versions for days now.....
jazz's picture

Would really be interesting if CB helps to understand differences of this or more rereleases of Classic Records masterings. So far I must say that I like the tonal balance of the Classic Records CSN for this kind of music, but who knows…

The AP/Cohearent differences are probably a good other example, although I must say I see the quality difference between the early AP Blue Notes to the Cohearent mastered ones in favor of the latter, while it’s the opposite for me with the Fantasy AP 45 RPM series vs. KG‘s later 33RPM reissues of the same.

Analog Scott's picture

Where can we find that?

2_channel_ears's picture
Analog Scott's picture

Just ordered it

Audiophilehi's picture

LP’s 2, 3, and 4 are sourced from 24/192 flac files.

Glotz's picture

$250. 2500 copies worldwide. Out May 28th.

Jenn's picture

...right now. Really wonderful, in my opinion. Other than the original, I haven't heard other pressings, but I really like this.
SIDE NOTE: I enjoyed you very much on our friend Jason's amp podcast, Michael. Thanks for doing that. I hope to see you in Long Beach next month.

garyalex's picture

I wonder how this will compare to my MoFi copy? I haven't listened to that one in a long time.

patrice.g.dubois@gmail.com's picture

Will the 2021 CSNY RSD Alternate Deja Vu Vinyl be AAA?

mb's picture

The alternates were mixed digitally and the Alternates LP in the 5LP set is not AAA, so I can’t imagine the RSD LP will be AAA.

jazz's picture

in warmth&softer transients vs. leanness&sharper transients (besides other characteristics) really partly equals the difference between Grundman‘s old and new mastering chain, this would also explain why his newly remastered ex-Classic Record releases on ORG and AP gatefold releases sound brighter (in the perception of not all but many) in case of slightly critical ones (Ah Um, Ellington Jazz Party, Stravinsky Firebird, Love for 3 Oranges, Time out etc.).

It would be most interesting to know Grundman‘s EQ choices for those parallel versions. As e.g. the sequence of balanced to brightness of Ah Um releases in my perception is Mofi (normal,and One Step), Classic, ORG, and if in all cases the EQ was flat (which I doubt at least for several Jazz releases), then the tonality differences of the setups used must be quite extreme. In my opinion, by this example it’s not possible to call each of those 3 releases balanced sounding on the same setup.

The reason why I think Grundman here and there and in those examples tweaks with EQ is, that with assumed the same mastering chain he also produces very balanced and flat sounding releases (e.g. for ORG Music and even a few ORG ones) and because various of the same releases exist done by other mastering studios and sounding more balanced and natural.

To reveal some of his mastering choices would be very helpful for understanding what’s going on with his works. I don’t perceive from others of his engineers what I assume here and there is top end EQ‘ing.
That said, I like Grundman as a person from what I saw and love much of his work.

WaltonGoggins's picture

It sure would be nice to be able to buy just the album for $30-35. I love CS&N '69 several times more than I like Deja Vu, but I doubt I'd fork over an extra $60-70 for mostly play 'em once CDs.

If the option "just the album itself" is good enough for the Beatles, it ought to be fine for the runners-up.

Steve Edwards's picture

I have little interest in the discs, but would love to have a copy of the album. BTW, I listened to my Rhino reissue from a few years back yesterday and it sounded pretty good. Eagerly awaiting hearing this reissue.

xtcfan80's picture

I just ordered an Australian pressing on-line...no clue how it'll sound but would like to have a clean copy of this. A single LP of the Chris Bellman cut would be cool to have at $25-35 or so...maybe it'll happen in the future. And agreed, Neil's "B" tunes are better than most songwriter's best material...Helpless is classic Young to me. The Graham Nash interview is great Michael....

jkingtut's picture

Which really gets going when you're ready to hang up the first time... funny how that happens... Precious stuff.

mikeh22020's picture

51 years ago, at the age of 12 I was released from the hospital after being diagnosed as a Type 1/Juvenile Diabetic. I had an uncle with diabetes who had gone blind and my life was at a very low point at a fairly young age. A woman who worked for my mom gave me an LP when I got out of the hospital that record was "Deja Vu" I played it literally hundreds of times and felt like the harmonies were the voices from God. The line "..to sing the blues, you've got to live the dues...AND CARRY ON!!" Carry on... not to be cheesy but that simple verse has inspired my life. I have a very large collection of music now but this piece of vinyl is one of the most precious possessions I own. I pre-ordered as soon as available and love it. The outtakes etc are simply wonderful.

jazz's picture

Tom Fine in the last Stereophile says, this one sounds darker than the original, here we read the Original and the Classic sound darker than this one. Seems to be system dependent.

JR465's picture

Michael- Wow what a great review! Your insights into the sound of cutting systems and modern LP sound really resonated with me. I have noticed a shift towards leaner, cleaner, tighter sounding LPs over the past 15-20 years.

Speaking for myself, I find many reissues of late to have bass that is too tight, air and space around instruments that has largely dried up, and a presentation that loses something on an emotional level. When speaking of air, Im not talking about top end air, Im talking about the resonance, decay, ambiance associated with the music. Many times with newly mastered LPs, its almost as if the notes stop before they even begin. Frequently I find the music is so tightly controlled it’s a constant reminder that Im listening to a recording.

I never felt this sensation with any of my Classic Records LPs and I must own at least 50 of them, yet even some of the LPs mastered by Bernie or Chris as of late can sound just a bit too tight for me. The mastering is always superb (yes Im a BG/CB fanboy), so I would tell you its likely changes within the mastering chain that I am hearing.

Like you, I also noticed a difference between Kevins system at Acoustech and Cohearent. In general, I find the Acoustech titles that I own to be a bit fuller sounding with the midrange thats more fleshed out. I liked the CCR titles that were done at Acoustech during that time period. As you say, sonic differences can be something as simple as changing cables.

I really liked the mastering system operated by the late Doug Sax at the Mastering Lab. One example that comes to mind is Roger Waters Amused To Death. The bottom end on that record is not tight, loose, or over controlled; I find it just right. The bass has a resonance, weight, and authority that serves and propels the music forward with greater emotion and impact. As I hear it, this resonance combined with a sense of natural decay continues throughout the entire frequency range leaving the music to sound as if its cut from the same cloth top to bottom, to the point where I no longer feel like Im listening to a record.

In your review of Amused To Death you described the QSound surround sound as…’depth and width of the cinematic soundstage is beyond that of every other record I can think of in my collection’, you then likened the pressing experiencing a 3D IMAX movie but with greater intensity and dimensionality. I would agree. With so many cutting systems tuned to provide a cleaner, more detailed, technical sound, Im not so sure a presentation like this could be recreated.

Back to your review of Déjà vu, good as the latest reissue obviously is (given your high sonic rating), I think the Classic Records would suit my tastes better. I hope you will continue to make similar comparisons in your upcoming reviews where possible as it allows the reader to make a more informed choice. Lastly, including BGs mastering notes was a great idea.

Once again thanks for a really insightful review!

John

gMRfk6LMHn's picture

Wow! Well written John, you have articulated your point of view really well! You obviously care about the good old vinyl LP, nearly as much as Mikey! I agree with your observations on modern cut records.

The word that keeps springing up in my head is 'musicality'. I find that while a lot of records have detail, dimensionality and accuracy, they don't make my foot tap along to the music.

James, Dublin, Ireland

JR465's picture

James- Thanks for your kind words. Wow, when I hear someone using the words musical and musicality, I immediately think of my friend Don. Don tried getting back into vinyl a few years ago. He bought a decent turntable, 40-50 reissues, and soon sold it all. When I asked why he said, ‘most of the reissues and new releases I have are all detail- no musicality’.

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