The Buffalo Springfield Box Set

Buffalo Springfield Buffalo Springfield Box Set

Expectations have understandably run about as high as they go on this long-awaited box set devoted to The Buffalo Springfield — the last of the truly great '60s rock bands to receive its proper due on CD. Even though the band's actual life span only amounted to an astonishingly brief 25 months, Buffalo Springfield's unforgettable folk-country-rock-whatever sound absorbed and transcended its roots in a confident, wholly unique way that influenced music for years to come and assured the band's place right at the tip of the rock pantheon.

Springfield featured three exceptionally strong writers and singers — Neil Young, Stephen Stills and Richie Furay — and, even in the earliest material on this collection, each is revealed as a self-possessed and surprisingly mature talent. The group's collective identity seems fully forged early on as well, as evidenced by the precise yet inventive instrumental interplay (particularly the killer Stills-Young dual lead guitar attack) and the rich and intricate, sweet-husky harmonies of Furay-Stills.

It's a thrill to hear those harmonies in their pure, unadulterated form on the numerous, newly unearthed demos scattered throughout the set. A few of the demos are throwaways (like Young's I'm Your Kind of Guy) but several of them are absolutely gorgeous (listen to Stills' We'll See and the oddly Anglicized So You've Got a Lover) and many of the songs have never been heard before. The box set shows Springfield to be a thrifty recycler (particularly Young, always a first-class cannibalizer of his own material, as well as that of others) and many of the melodies and lyrics on the abandoned demos turn up elsewhere: Young's exquisite Down Down Down becomes Broken Arrow, The Rent is Always Due becomes I Am a Child, and several other songs show up full blown on Young's first solo album.

Oddities abound as well, from Furay's weirdly Beatle-esque My Kind of Love to a bona fide surf instrumental called Kahuna Sunset. The material is sequenced in chronological order, breaking up the holy order of the original LPs but offering a much more valuable portrait of the band's development. The bad news is that, with four full CDs to fill, it seems just short of inexcusable not to include all the good stuff, and there are some crucial missing pieces here. Due to its extreme rarity, we can understand the absence of any live material (although Springfield was a great live band) but where is Young's legendary lost Springfield song Sell Out or the much admired, final studio mixes of Four Days Gone and On the Way Home?

For that matter, where is In the Hour of Not Quite Rain, probably the best and most interesting tune Richie Furay ever wrote (as well as one of the Springfield's best)? We can only assume that the ever-complicated band members themselves had some sort of unexplained personal issues with including that specific material, adding to the feeling of a very hands-on compilation that, for better and worse, was assembled by and for the artists themselves. That alone makes The Buffalo Springfield Box Set, at least from a fan's perspective, an extremely worthwhile but far from definitive listen. (Rhino)
—Lance Goldenberg