David Crosby scales a new creative peak

Mint ST - - THE SCOOP -

Late last month David Crosby, 77, was in the news on not one but two oc­ca­sions: First, when he slammed Ted Nu­gent, the Amer­i­can rock mu­si­cian and pro-guns right wing ac­tivist who had ranted at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for never nom­i­nat­ing him for in­duc­tion; in re­sponse, Crosby (who has been in­ducted twice—once when he was with The Byrds and again when he was part of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) tweeted: “That is re­ally funny stuff… he’s not good enough and he never will be .... a hack player and no singer at all .... could not write a de­cent song if his life de­pended on it.” And sec­ond, when the vet­eran folk-rocker, whose ca­reer be­gan 54 years back when he joined The Byrds, re­leased his sev­enth solo al­bum, Here If You Lis­ten.

With it Crosby joins a pan­theon of folk rock le­gends who’ve re­leased late­ca­reer al­bums re­cently: Joan Baez and Paul Si­mon, both also 77, re­leased Whis­tle Down The Wind and In The Blue Light, re­spec­tively; and late last year, Crosby’s for­mer band­mate, Stephen Stills, 73, col­lab­o­rated with the singer Judy Collins, 79, to re­lease Every­body Knows, an al­bum that was fi­nanced by crowd­fund­ing. An­other of Crosby’s band­mates, Neil Young, 72, has been pro­lific too, reg­u­larly re­leas­ing new al­bums as well as old record­ings that had pre­vi­ously re­mained un­re­leased.

Some of th­ese late-ca­reer al­bums are ex­cel­lent. Baez’s new one has her sing­ing songs by Tom

Waits, Josh Rit­ter and Anohni; and on his lat­est, Si­mon res­ur­rects and re-records 10 of his songs that ap­peared in ear­lier al­bums but were not very well-known. Stills and Collins’ al­bum is a mixed bag, though. Stills’ voice has not weath­ered his sev­eral decades­long wild life­style well and al­though Collins’ sing­ing re­deems their col­lab­o­ra­tion a bit, it’s not an al­bum that you’d sorely miss if you didn’t lis­ten to it.

In con­trast, Crosby’s new al­bum is a sur­pris­ing gem. Sur­pris­ing be­cause Crosby’s bat­tle with health and ad­dic­tion is­sues is well known. Twenty-four years ago, he had a liver trans­plant (one that was paid for by Phil Collins, in­ci­den­tally); he is heav­ily di­a­betic; and has strug­gled with long bouts of hep­ati­tis. Yet, in the past four years, he has re­leased four solo al­bums. On Here If You Lis­ten, he col­lab­o­rates with Michael League, front­man of the Brook­lyn-based jazz-fu­sion band, Snarky Puppy, and singers Becca Stevens and Michelle Wil­lis. Th­ese mu­si­cians don’t just lend their voices and play in­stru­ments; it’s a gen­uine sort of col­lab­o­ra­tion with most of the songs on the al­bum jointly writ­ten by Crosby and his col­lab­o­ra­tors.

If Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (CSNY) was a band that be­came a part of your grow­ing up as it did mine, the new Crosby al­bum is an es­sen­tial. CSNY was known for its ex­quis­ite vo­cal har­monies and while lis­ten­ing to Here If You Lis­ten there are sev­eral mo­ments when you can ap­pear to be eerily trans­ported back to the late 1960s and early 1970s, the hey­days of that leg­endary band. Ten of the 11 songs on Here If You Lis­ten are orig­i­nal and, ap­par­ently, the mu­si­cians (who com­pleted the record­ing in just a month) went to the stu­dio with only two that were al­ready writ­ten. The 11th is Joni Mitchell’s Wood­stock, a counter-cul­ture an­them of the 1970s that CSNY cov­ered and which in Crosby’s new ver­sion takes on a new rel­e­vance.

Crosby does ru­mi­nate on the in­evitable in his new al­bum. On Your Own Ride, he sings: Cause I been think­ing about dy­ing/ And how to do it well. Yet, un­like some of his ear­lier solo al­bums, the pre­dom­i­nant tone of Here If You Lis­ten is un­ex­pect­edly and re­fresh­ingly up­beat with songs ap­pear­ing to cel­e­brate life rather than be low and whiny. That could well be be­cause the three younger col­lab­o­ra­tors (in their early 30s) in­ject large mea­sures of joie de vivre into the mu­sic. Or it could be that Crosby in his twi­light years re­ally loves life. On Twit­ter, as @the­david­crosby, he ap­pears pretty ac­tive, en­gaged and in­vig­o­rated, dis­cussing with fans ev­ery­thing from his mu­sic, his gui­tars, and even pol­i­tics. And, of course, there’s that broad­side he de­liv­ered to Nu­gent.

Two songs in the al­bum, 1964, and 1974, are pre­vi­ously com­posed de­mos that are fleshed out in the al­bum, and the lat­ter cel­e­brates love and mu­sic: All of my love songs/ Send them out again/ Revel in mu­sic/ Let it take care of you .On Other Half Rule, there are ref­er­ences to Trump (whom he calls “Small Hands”) and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un (“Rocket Man”), and a call to men to move aside and let women rule the world. The ethe­real vo­cal har­monies, fin­ger­picked acous­tic gui­tar riffs, and light touches of jazz make Here If You Lis­ten a re­mark­able al­bum that clearly demon­strates how it is pos­si­ble for even a sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian leg­end to find a new peak and con­quer it. Aptly, the last song on the al­bum is Crosby’s el­e­vated ren­der­ing of Mitchell’s Wood­stock. “Yes, we’ve got to get our­selves/ Back to the gar­den/ Yes, we’ve got to get our­selves/ Back to the gar­den”. Mag­nif­i­cent.

First Beat is a col­umn on what’s new and groovy in the world of mu­sic.


David Crosby per­form­ing in West Palm Beach, Florida, in 2006.

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