River Whyless: Five Essential CSNY Songs
Musicians listen to their forebears not only with an ear to an artist's technical imprint — the depth of production or the way a guitar is tuned — but to the invaluable message that's been imparted over the decades too, woven in lyrics, emotional catalysts, and meaningful actions. That is certainly true of the bond between River Whyless and the legacy of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: a true bridging of multigenerational spirits.
River Whyless, based out of Asheville, North Carolina, has released one of the most politically progressive and thoughtful albums of 2018, Kindness, A Rebel. Their songs, a couple of which they played live during their most recent FUV Live session, hark back to the galvanzing protest anthems of the late Sixties and early Seventies and spark a dialogue about today's corrosive sociopolitical climate, its effect on all Americans, and how to constructively counter that tempest.
The members of River Whyless — Ryan O'Keefe (vocals, guitars), Daniel Shearin (vocals, bassist), Halli Anderson (vocals, violin) and Alex McWalters (drums) — have never been shy about their admiration for David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young and the elder band's ability to parse both the personal and the political in their songs, all swathed in luscious harmonies. River Whyless even had a chance to perform with Nash last year for Nashville's "Skyville Live" online series, celebrating Nash's songwriting career.
So when FUV asked River Whyless if they might want to choose their "Five Essential CSNY Songs" for FUV Essentials, both O'Keefe and Shearin stepped up with favorites that have been beloved earworms for most of their lives.
River Whyless's Ryan O'Keefe and Daniel Shearin: Five Essential CSNY Songs:
"Helplessly Hoping," Crosby, Stills & Nash (1969)
Of course I listened to this song years ago, but it was not until last winter that I fell deeply in love with it. I was working on my house in North Carolina and there were many days that were cold and dark. I found myself getting consumed by this track. The harmonies, the lyrics, and the haunting melody are completely consuming and it’s one of those tracks that I simply wish I could live inside. Building my house was a bright point in my life and though "Helplessly Hoping" is not traditionally an uplifting song, to me the contrasting emotions of building your home and "Helplessly Hoping" bring a deeper meaning to each other. Maybe like salt on watermelon. Or a wood stove burning during a snow storm.
"Our House," Déjà Vu (1970)
I grew up listening to this song with my mother. On the day of our "Skyville Live" session with him, it was a surreal experience to be in a dressing room with Graham [Nash] while he told me the story that inspired it. “A ‘normal’ day in southern California,” Graham said, “Joni and I were window shopping after brunch.” My mouth was open after the first few sentences and I never closed it. In that moment, I truly realized what a profound influence Graham and CSNY have had on the last 50 years of music. Graham is a pillar of songwriting history. One we all look towards, whether we know it or not.
"Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," Crosby, Stills & Nash (1969)
I mostly play guitar, but this song inspired me to play bass. The bass line floats atop the song. This is a rare thing, considering its general role and frequency in songwriting. It’s one of my favorite opening tracks of any record.
- Ryan O'Keefe, River Whyless
"Teach Your Children," Déjà Vu (1970)
From early childhood, my family would have sing-alongs at family gatherings. Weddings, graduations, holidays and even funerals wouldn’t be complete without them. "Teach Your Children" was one of the staples, a song that always seemed to me to be perfect for the setting. As we’d all sing together, I’d hear a song sung from one generation to the other; parents and children trading verses, offering perspective, patience and understanding from each side.
"Helpless," Déjà Vu (1970)
Enter the unmistakable flavor of Neil Young. “Helpless” begins with that distinct melancholy tenor that is uniquely his, a fresh addition to the classic CSN sound you find at the front of Déjà Vu. Then this spirit is matched by his bandmates as they sing together in harmony on the refrain, and the song finds its home among the rest. One of my favorites from the CSNY catalog!
- Daniel Shearin, River Whyless