Monday, January 11, 2016
There is an endless river of ideas, sounds and pictures quietly flowing just a few feet above the heads of humanity. Those that are fortunate enough to be woken from a dead sleep and invited to dip their hand in this wondrous pool can retrieve invaluable gifts. It is how you assemble the information for presentation to others that counts. Imagine having the ability to glide along the surface in perpetuity, fishing out these treasures with ease.
"All the pictures I see are smiling at me, but today I'm somebody new"
True talent always finds a way to tap into this stream, penetrate the public consciousness with what they have found and remain there by consistently working on their craft. David Crosby has built a very successful career by raising his voice in song, harmonic brilliance and opinions that carry great insight, if you care to listen. Dividing his time amongst several very successful musical aggregations over the years (The Byrds, CSN, CSNY, C&N, CPR), has meant that the energies reserved for his own projects were often sublimated in favour of collaborative efforts. When listeners do get a record from him, it has always been quality over quantity.
His most recent solo release, Croz, is one of his very best.
Shamefully late to the table in picking up on this disc, it has quickly worked its way into my regular rotation. He is in quite good voice, per usual, though it is his facility with words here that bears repeated examination. Arrangements are sharp, featuring some spectacular detours from the main melodic theme, supported by a cast of impeccable players. Figuring prominently in this mix is his son, James Raymond. His composition, "What's Broken", leads off the set in style. Rhythmically active with slippery bass lines, a very clever turnaround into the chorus and the decorative guitar work of guest contributor Mark Knopfler, this is an strong opener. Floating over this soundscape is a perfectly executed vocal with those trademark harmonies providing the sweetener.
What's broken? Not a thing...
Keeping the pulse as this stunning track dissolves is the percussive intro to "Time I Have".
Life in the city is so densely packed, fear of each other is an accepted fact
Exploring an esoteric lyric that balances positive self-talk to counter what the writer observes in the often depressing actions of the entities that attempt to us hold back with fear mongering. Peace doesn't always win the day, though the melody is enough to coax even the most cynical individual toward that path. As it goes with the best of art, the true meaning is left open ended. Spend the time that you have wisely.
Highlights are plentiful on Croz, though "Holding on to Nothing" occupies top position in that department. Gentle acoustic guitar in an exotic tuning frames this jazzy piece, which is graced with a beautiful trumpet solo from one of the masters, Wynton Marsalis. There is a downbeat atmosphere created which is only slightly dispersed by the expressive horn, which evokes a similar mood to that with which Chet Baker cast over Elvis Costello's "Shipbuilding". The words convey a subtle sadness, saying much with great economy.
Sunny days can fool you/they can look wet with rain/even words from a friend/can bring back the pain
Another absolute stunner is the second James Raymond offering, "The Clearing". If you were hard pressed to find a musical equivalent of "ethereal". look no further. Personally, listening to this one provided the same familiar chills felt when I first heard Jeff Buckley's Grace. Crosby channels the emotion effortlessly. Lulled into a sense of where this might be going, the surprise comes in the outro as the soundscape shifts to prog in an instant with some deft guitar work underpinned by inventive, bass-heavy synth lines. Given a moment to establish a motif, the scene breaks back to a tapestry of shimmering acoustics. Listen for yourself.
There is strength in every note brought forth here ("Radio" has an uplifting chorus, while "Set That Baggage Down" is a confident reminder to keep looking forward, despite any wreckage that you may have caused or endured), though one more selection has to be called out for special mention, as it features the artist without a net. "If She Called" is delicately rendered, bewitchingly arranged for solo voice and guitar. A distant cousin of "Guinevere" (in feel only and without a harmony vocal line), the inspiration for this song apparently came from a group of prostitutes that he saw near his hotel in Belgium. This should have been placed as the last track, as it floors everything that follows it. Stellar in every sense of the word, as with everything you'll encounter here.
Deserving of every superlative, the overall result is the fruit of intensive and inspired labor. The hard and dirty work that goes into song craft is often dismissed by those who have never turned their own hand to it. In a contemporary musical culture that has produced "artists" who are unable to flip on a light switch in a studio, let alone define what key signature their latest hit falls into, it is very welcome to listen to a cohesive collection that genuinely has something to say. This is an album that anyone would be proud to sign their name to.
Support the artist and grab yourself a copy right here or from his website, where you will also find details on his upcoming west coast solo tour.