Crosby’s art can take many musical forms. This release takes an overall mellow path but his history takes in a staggering range of moods and tempo’s. Take The Byrds’ Lady Friend – it bursts with raging drums, emphatic bass, ringing electric twelve string, an ominous staccato brass arrangement, a lyric of loss with no trace of self-pity and that glorious soaring vocal, all here, ablaze and over in about two minutes…
A couple of years ago I was at the Royal Albert Hall to see Crosby Stills & Nash and band and at one point David explained that as regards song inspiration, he felt that if The Muse ‘drops an idea right on your head’ you should be grateful for the gift and use what has arrived. In the same show, Stills confessed that the setlist was ‘a cruel joke upon the band’, as the singers might suddenly decide to add an old song at any point!
The essential characteristic of Crosby’s output is that he doesn’t stand still. He challenges himself with unusual guitar tunings, enabling to produce such offbeat haunting pieces like Déjà vu. One of the true timeless albums of our time is If Only I Could Remember My Name upon which various West Coast luminaries play and enhance a set of utterly gorgeous arpeggio-chord based treasures with vocal textures and harmonies that seem to have filtered in from another galaxy.
David is never afraid to strip things back to the absolute core elements at any point in a song. Of all American musical acts, it is probably Crosby who is closest in approach to using textures, tones and ambience to our own Robin Trower and they both display the touch of the best painters such as Monet and Turner.
Often, less is more. If you are ever tired of the acts that throw everything at you at once and often at maximum volume, leaving no breathing space of discernible pulse in their recordings, it’s these artists that you can turn to and savour. You can probably add Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell in there..and Miles Davis.
Here, Crosby has worked closely with Michael League, the producer who also sings and plays. Other musicians include singer and lyricist Becca Stevens, Bill Laurence piano, Cory Henry on organ, singer Michelle Willis.
First cut Things We Do For Love is not the old strident pop song but an eerie and acoustic guitar-led song that is carried on air, harmonies bleeding in from on high here and there. The number becomes more emphatic over the chorus but its delicacy is never buried. It’s a cloud of a song.
The Us Below is a more sprightly chord tumble in that familiar conspiratorial Crosby style ‘we’ve become something we weren’t meant to be’ he sings. The harmonies are rich and commanding. It seems to hark back to past eras in ambience, much as Guinnevere and the mighty Renaissance Fair did. Sadness cloaked in beauty and not hiding its face.
Drive Out To The Desert takes its time and lets the chords ring out. He makes it sound so easy, so effortless. The escape lyric does reference the lighthouse. It’s a skill in itself to sound detached yet connective,but it’s achieved here ; Look In Their Eyes takes a finger-clicking beat and tells its story and unless I am missing something is about refugees. Certainly one of the most haunting numbers here and made me want to plug in a fuzz bass and thicken the sound – like Croz would let me do that, huh….
Somebody Other Than You has a gorgeous lightness for an accusatory lyric, a crystal admonition. Who else ever does this? The City is a more defined tread of a song and sounds like a set-starter with its bluesy riffing against the main guitar motif. Possibly the best vocal here imho AND the best harmony work.
Paint You A Picture uses a lyric by none other than Marc Cohn, whose Lost You In The Canyon was long a stage favourite with one of my bands. Quite a poet. Delivered here as almost a tone poem, a picture is indeed deftly painted. What Makes It So is a protest song with a solemn strum in the build. Drama attained without high volume or shouting, after-hours organ et al.
Crosby still sees himself as a battler, it is clear. By The Light Of The Common Day has Becca Stevens input and arrives almost in the style of early Fairport Convention. That’s a compliment, of course. The loveliness of the singing does cap this set off in style.
An acoustic-based feast of frankly spooky songs with no lack of warmth and conviction but no histrionics either and the subtlest production you could ever find. It’s not only Croz fans who would take to this, I reckon Jackson Browne followers would enjoy these songs.
David Crosby’s new studio solo album ‘Lighthouse’ is out now on Verve Records. For more information visit his official website here: www.davidcrosby.com