Over the years since Neil Young's godlike status has grown, it is easy to forget about the jaw-dropping breadth of talent that was Crosby, Stills & Nash, his sometimes former bandmates. Crosby had the silken voice and Nash the impossibly high harmony, but, as the remarkable official bootleg JUST ROLL TAPE: April 26th 1968 proves, Stephen Stills was a complete talent as a singer, writer, and guitarist. Reportedly recorded in one long take after he bribed the engineer of a Judy Collins session on the title date to continue recording long into the night, JUST ROLL TAPE is what its title suggests: a roll of inspired performances of songs from Still's embryonic catalog just before Crosby and Nash's angelic voices stormed the pop charts with him.
In fact, the whole night seems designed by the infamously raw producer David Briggs: tracks are brisk, mistakes are kept, the sound is rough, and every song sounds like a first take. And what a string of first takes: "So Begins the Task"--later released on MANASSAS--anticipates the finger-picked bleakness of DEJA VU's "4 & 20"; "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" finds particular starkness as a solo song despite the jubilant open chords; and "The Doctor Will See You Now" holds its own against anything in Young's catalog. While his songwriting and guitar playing are stellar, Stills's voice is equally stunning, with its tender, affecting rasp making an AM weeper like "Helplessly Hoping" sound tough. A rough gem of a listen, but a must-have for any fans of Stills or of Crosby, Stills & Nash.
Rolling Stone (p.95) - 3.5 stars out of 5 -- "[T]he melodic craft and poetic romance that Stills rushed to tape suggest that the singer-guitarist was, in the beginning, also CSN's most formidable composer."
Uncut (p.96) - "For all his funky folk strumming and bluesy accents, JUST ROLL TAPE underscores just how soulful Stills' voice was."
Dirty Linen (p.82) - "Stills is in great voice on these recordings....This is an intriguing historical document..."
No Depression (p.88) - "four previously unreleased titles and a even-minute studio version of 'Treetop Flyer' round out a must-have for Stills fans."