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(Blue Castle Records As broadcast on WVIA-FM 3/19/2014)
Innovation in contemporary music usually comes from young artists who bring their own generation's perspective to their art. But rock music has been going long enough that we have a number of elder statesmen, who can be quite different in their approaches artistically. Some are happy to keep playing their old hits, others try to keep up with the times and play more contemporary styles, sometimes with embarrassing results, while others build on their body of work and create worthwhile new music that continues to show creativity.
This week we're reviewing a recording by someone who perhaps epitomizes a life lived in the rock and roll world, and who has risen to make one of the best albums of his career. David Crosby has released his first solo album in over 20 years called Croz.
Inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame twice for his work with the seminal 1960s folk rock band the Byrds and with 1970s icons, Crosby Sills and Nash, the 72-year-old David Crosby has certainly had his share of tribulations, with alcohol and other substance problems, arrests, and serious medical problems, including a well-publicized liver transplant. And while he has been in the public eye, and kept the Crosby, Still and Young collaboration going on and off over the years, Crosby himself as a solo artist has not been very prolific. The new CD Croz is by one measure, only his fifth formal solo studio album in a recording career that now goes back some 50 years. And what makes it remarkable, after all these years, with his portrait on the CD cover showing every one of those 72 years of his age -- is how he is still at the top of his form, with the same airy vocals and tight harmonies, often with himself through overdubbing, and with music that is substantial and often sonically beguiling. It follows some of the stylistic cues of his early solo albums like If I Could Only Remember My Name from 1971, and some of the more atmospheric work he did in his duo collaborations with Graham Nash.
Crosby's principal musical partner on the CD is his son James Raymond, whom Crosby had put up for adoption but who later reunited with his biological father as an adult. Crosby and Raymond formed a group called CPR in 1996 with guitarist Jeff Pevan, which lasted into the early 2000s. Raymond wrote or co-wrote several of the songs on Croz with his father. The other frequent collaborator is guitarist and vocalist Marcus Eaton, a remarkable player who has been a guest on our Homegrown Music series here at WVIA multiple times. In fact, Crosby plays guitar on only one tune. Eaton handles the acoustic guitar on all the rest. There are a number of significant guests including Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, who does an electric guitar solo, jazz great Wynton Marsalis who makes a cameo appearance on trumpet, and guitarist Shane Fontayne who plays lead guitar on several tracks. Other regulars on the album include bassist Kevin McCormick and drummer Steve DiStanislao -- when there are drums.
The mood of this album is generally contemplative in sound and often jazzy in texture. Crosby was quoted as saying that he made this album to please himself. He certainly made no attempt to go for the in-your-face contemporary rock sound. One can hear echoes of songs like The Lee Shore and even Wooden Ships in the music on this album. And as a fan of Marcus Eaton, I can hear his contributions with the jazzy chords and uncommon time signatures.
The CD opens with What's Broken a piece written by James Raymond, whose composition is closely in the style of his father. The track features Mark Knopfler on electric guitar, while the sound is in the contemplative, atmospheric mode of much of this album. <<>>
The Crosby composition called The Time I Have is in the form of a vague social commentary. The piece is also reminiscent of Crosby's early solo work. <<>>
There are a few tracks that forgo the drums altogether for a kind of jazzy introspective folk sound. Holding on to Nothing is the track that has the solo by trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. <<>>
Another piece by James Raymond, written in the style of Crosby's earlier work on his 1970s solo albums and collabortaions with Graham Nash is called The Clearing. Marcus Eaton is featured prominently on acoustic guitar and a bit of sitar. <<>>
Impressionistic in both music and lyrics is a joint Crosby, Raymond and Eaton composition called Slice of Time. There are some CSN-style vocal harmonies with Marcus Eaton and Shane Fontayne providing other voices. <<>>
A bit more toward rock and the old CSN sound is a song written by Crosby and Raymond called Radio. It's another song inspired, in part, by Crosby's long-time interest in sailing. <<>>
On the other hand, on the track If She Called the band is dispensed with and it's just Crosby and Eaton's guitars. <<>>
The CD ends with one of its highlights, Find a Way, written by Crosby, Raymond and Marcus Eaton. One can hear Eaton's jazzy influence in the piece's 6/8 meter and interesting harmonic sequence. The lyrics are also optimistically philosophical. <<>>
David Crosby's new CD Croz, his first solo album in nearly 21 years, is one of the best solo efforts of his lengthy career. He has clearly put his tribulations behind him musically, and is in top form at age 72. There are not many guys who can still do those high airy harmonies at that age, or much younger for that matter. His collaboration with his son James Raymond and creative guitarist Marcus Eaton proved to be an excellent one. Crosby covers some of the same musical territory that marked his early solo work, but I think he brings more depth to it, and obviously a more mature viewpoint to the lyrics. He's doing what he does best and making it sound fresh.
Our grade for sound quality is a rare "A." The mix is clean and with just the right degrees of sonic atmospherics. The recording also was mastered with a half-decent dynamic range and not compressed to the max like most recording these days.
It's interesting that Crosby, given his personal history, chose the name Stay Straight Music for his publishing company. Musically, he's definitely in a great place. Let's hope he keeps it up. I don't think we can afford to wait another 20 years for a further solo recording.
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