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Buffalo Springfield

Our critics' picks in new releases

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Destined for big fame and fortune as the talent-laden house combo at the Whiskey A Go Go, Buffalo Springfield might have unseated The Byrds as Hollywood's reigning folk-rock/country band. The quintet served up an intoxicating brew, fueled by heavenly guitar-picking and the combined vocal trill of Stephen Stills and Richie Furay, which recalled the harmonies of The Everly Brothers.

Instrumentally, however, the Buffalo boys had bigger balls. When Stills' swift finger playing rubbed against the raw garage-style leads of Neil Young, their twin-guitar sound sparked like a match to ethanol.

Yet BS lasted only 25 months, a casualty of crooked business deals and colliding egos. Stills and Young bickered constantly. Young quit, returned, then quit again. Tour itineraries were interrupted by drug busts and deportation hearings. Myriad bass players, including future stars like Jim Messina, came and went. To commemorate their demise in May of '68, the group issued one final album, Last Time Around, a disappointing batch of loosely knit solo sessions. Buffalo Springfield had released a mere three LPs, then gone out with a whimper.

What remains, 33 years later, is this splendid box set, a vaguely chronological four-CD collection of familiar cuts interspersed with freshly unearthed treasures. Reportedly assembled by Young himself, the set features 88 cuts, including 38 remixes and unreleased performances.

Listeners can trace Springfield's swift maturation as singers, players and--especially--songwriters. Particularly ear-catching are the dozen workbook-style demos waxed at the famous Gold Star studio during 1966-1967. These uncluttered solo and duo acoustic versions of songs later made famous possess an intimate coffeehouse-like ambiance and an unpretentious innocence. Imagine sitting around the bar between Stills and Young-- then-fledgling troubadours still wet behind the ears. Listen, as they swap songs and six-strings, and imagine what might have been.

Box Set is not perfect, however. Tracks from live tapes (oft-mentioned by Young) that reveal the band's burning onstage chemistry are missing, if indeed they ever existed. And nearly all of Disc Four, which frames the first two Springfield albums back to back, is a near recapitulation of the same cuts on the first three discs. The Richie Furay faithful will no doubt lament the exclusion of his moody "In the Hour of Not Quite Rain," a soaring big-production number that rivaled Young's better-known "Expecting to Fly" in unfettered beauty. Finally, the packet's 82-page booklet is hit-and-miss, marred by an eye-throbbing brown-on-brown motif and bogus liner notes by BS superfan Ken Viola, who favors sentiment over fact.

As an introduction to the legend of Buffalo Springfield, you can save big bucks with Retrospective. But if you're already smitten, Box is worth every damn cent.

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