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David Crosby: Lighthouse
by George Graham
(Verve Records As broadcast on WVIA-FM 10/5/2016)
This week we have a new album by an aging rocker who has shown that he is still in top form, something that has become fairly rare. It’s from David Crosby, and his new release is called Lighthouse.
David Crosby, on course, was a co-founder of the Byrds in the early 1960s, and then Crosby Stills and Nash, with occasionally Young, who were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. For a while Crosby did live the life of the rock star, which brought on medical problems with substance abuse and it reached the point that he was imprisoned and needed a liver transplant. But after a long period of rare releases, the now-75-year old has released Lighthouse his second album in just two years.
Crosby’s last album Croz was one of the best things he has done, thanks to some excellent collaborators, including his son James Raymond and guitarist Marcus Eaton. Now for Lighthouse, Crosby works with essentially one other player for very intimate, almost completely acoustic album. That collaborator is Michael League, known as the leader of the highly eclectic jazz ensemble Snarky Puppy. Crosby was invited to appear on Snarky Puppy’s Dinner Music Volume 2, released earlier this year, and put in a guest appearance doing largely an acoustic piece. League and Crosby stayed in touch, and worked together closely for Crosby’s new album, with most of the material being jointly composed by League and Crosby, and majority of the tracks on the album performed entirely by the two. There is a fair amount of overdubbing to get a more orchestral sound for the Lighthouse, with multiple layers of vocals. Crosby’s voice remains supple with the vocal harmonies up to the level of Crosby, Stills and Nash. On Lighthouse, Crosby sings about love and regret, and does couple of old-fashioned social consciousness, songs, one a contemporary anti-war song, and one inspired by the Syrian refugee crisis. But they are handled subtly as was Crosby’s material with CSN.
Opening is a song called Things We Do for Love a Crosby-League co-composition, whose title is self-explanatory. The subtle instrumentation epitomizes the tone of the album. <<>>
The following track, The Us Below is similar in mood, with the kind of tricky rhythmic figures that Crosby has done over of the years. <<>>
One of the best tracks in terms of both music and lyrics is Look In Their Eyes, which was inspired by the humanitarian crisis in Syria. <<>>
Another protest song is Somebody Other Than You, whose lyrics are an old-fashioned anti-war plea, on behalf of the young people who get recruited for fighting other people’s wars. Message lyrics notwithstanding, the piece is replete with the musical sophistication that makes this album so worthwhile. <<>>
There is a track whose lyrics were written by Marc Cohn, the singer-songwriter who had a hit with Walking in Memphis in the 1990s. Paint You a Picture has music by Crosby, and it’s another piece that shows both outward simplicity and inward subtlety. <<>>
Another sort of a protest song is What Makes It So, which denounces rigidity of thought, It was one written solely by Crosby. <<>>
The album ends with the one track whose music was not written by Crosby or producer Micharl League. By the Light of the Common Day has music by jazz-tock fusion vocalist Becca Stevens, who appears on the track, though the words are Crosby’s. It’s also nicely done and very much in the style of the rest of the album. <<>>
David Crosby’s new release Lighthouse is an excellent album that shows that despite his history of living in the fast lane and paying the consequences years ago, Crosby at age 75 is in fire form. And although with a little less of the airiness of his halcyon days, Crosby’s voice remains in remarkably good shape, able to create the multiply-overdubbed vocals that grace this album and are a kind of David Crosby sonic trademark. Working with Snarky Puppy leader Michael League, Lighthouse is almost a joint album with League and they work together very well. I am assuming that the partnership happened after Crosby made an appearance on the last album by Snarky Puppy. On paper, it seems an unlikely pairing, but the contrasting musicians complement each other very well. It’s also interesting that this almost all-acoustic album, with no percussion to speak of, sounds so full and at the same time allows us to concentrate on the songs.
Our grade for sound quality is a A-minus. The mix has good clarity, and the ambiance effects are done well. The one complaint is my usual one about dynamic range, with volume compression used to artificially one about dynamic range, with volume compression used to artificially jack up the volume of the recording and killing some of the music’s span from loud to soft.
David Crosby, on his new album Lighthouse, has made a remarkable and memorable recording at an age when most rockers have long-since retired, or are out to pasture on the oldies circuit. He has made an album that would be exceptional for a performer at any age.
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