Vintage Stash: Buffalo Springfield: What’s That Sound – Complete Albums Collection (ALBUM REVIEWS)

The story of Buffalo Springfield is one of chance, destiny and, ultimately, unfulfilled promise. But there’s no denying this quintet also suffered from an embarrassment of riches like few rock and roll bands of its time or any other. And while the formation of a band based on superficial previous associations isn’t all that novel–or elements of friction between its principals embedded within the group’s DNA–the ensuing career paths of Neil Young, Stephen Stills and (only to a slightly lesser extent) Richie Furay is altogether remarkable.

As is the long-term influence of a group that disbanded in 1968 after just about two years together. Furay’s collaboration in Poco with latter-day Springfield bassist/producer/engineer Jim Messina was a fusion of country music and rock and roll that remained unfortunately marginalized until after the latter hit mainstream pay-dirt with Kenny Loggins. But Buffalo Springfield not only extended the folk-rock fusion of the Byrds, it reaffirmed that seminal American band’s initial forays into c&w, albeit in less literal-minded terms, thereby sowing the seeds of what we call Americana today

What’s That Sound – Complete Albums Collection is not intended to supplant the previous four-disc Buffalo Springfield retrospective (the sole insert in this set is a single card containing Neil Young’s notes on the sequence of events (largely technical) involved in the production). Instead, this five-CD clam-shell box set is, like that aforementioned archive release, a labor of love on the part of the venerable Canadian musical icon that reaffirms not only his abiding loyalty to the group’s legacy, but his rightful contention these are the best sounding versions of this music.

Eponymous Stereo: Issued in both mixes as a two-CD set in 1997, the first Buffalo Springfield album  included here in stereo is notable for its span of a dozen tracks including “For What It’s Worth” as the lead-off: Stephen Stills’ anthem had become a hit in the three month interim following the original album release in December 1966 and its addition, combined with the deletion of the utterly derivative “Baby Don’t Scold Me,” led to a more concise and thus improved sequence of cuts. The group’s work has much greater impact in this somewhat more logical track-listing largely because Neil Young’s moody, introspective material—“Flying on the Ground Is Wrong,” “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing,” “Out Of My Mind”–gains greater prominence, while the unity of the quintet is more clear-cut as well.

Eponymous Mono: Over the course of its baker’s dozen cuts–“For What It’s Worth” is tagged on at the end for this CD–this mono mix reveals not just the layered density of Buffalo Springfield’s vocal harmonies, but the touches of acoustic guitar that flesh out the arrangements, as often as not in counterpoint to the contrasting electric lead guitars of Neil Young and Stephen Stills: as demonstrated on “Sit Down I Think I Love You,” the former’s tone is as often distorted as his iconoclastic personality, while the latter’s as effortlessly fluid as in his own lead singing (hear “Hot Dusty Roads”). A reflection of his somewhat unsung role in this band, Richie Furay’s singing brought as much nuance to “Do I Have to Come Right Out and Say It” as “Go And Say Goodbye.”

Again Stereo: As relatively brief its predecessor at slightly longer than a half hour, the sophomore Springfield album belies a remarkable range of rock, roots and lavish production, the expanse of which arrangements and material–”Mr. Soul,” “Bluebird,” “Expecting to Fly”– arguably suits the stereo spectrum more than the single channel of mono. Regardless, the successfully eclectics  of a group in the process of fracture is all the more impressive, particularly with updated sonics under the supervision of Neil Young: while previous releases also note work with the original masters of these recordings, the depth and breadth emanating from those aforementioned tracks, as well as “Everydays” and “Hung Upside Down,” confirm his (repeated) declarations the five CD’s in What’s That Sound contain the best audio to date for this material.

Again Mono: The most recently completed audio enhancements by technicians John Hanlon and Chris Bellman bring a palpable realism to the diametrically opposed likes of Stills’ “Rock and Roll Woman” and  Young’s ambitious “Broken Arrow,” so much so listeners may rethink their perceptions of monaural sound in the course of processing the dense mix acoustic and electric guitars in the former as well as the Canadian’s lush co-production (with Jack Nitzsche) on the latter.  Mirroring the splintering factions within the quintet, the contrasting approaches proved effective on this second album (originally to be titled, with no small irony, Stampede), so the comparative simplicity of Richie Furay’s rootsy contributions, “A Child’s Claim to Fame” and  “Sad Memory” contrast the lavish textures (and compensate for drummer Dewey Martin’s ill-concieved “Good Time Boy”).

Last Time AroundBuffalo Springfield had splintered by the time of this title’s release in July of 1968, but it’s a fine album on its own terms and otherwise noteworthy on a number of other fronts. Long-term entries in Neil Young’s repertoire appear here in the form of “On The Way Home” and “I Am A Child,” while Richie Furay’s “Kind Woman” is something of a blueprint for Poco, his subsequent collaboration with Jim Messina (a natural outgrowth of their bonding in the completion of this record). Stephen Stills’ contributions pale in comparison to his previous material for this group, however, most obviously “Questions,” which resurfaced, in modified form, as a segment of “Carry On” from CSNY’s Deja Vu. The replication of the original gate-fold package here compensates for the somewhat short shrift this LP received in the otherwise exhaustive 2001 anthology.

Top photo courtesy of Atlantic Records


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