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David Crosby: Crafting Croz

by Steve Silberman on May 21, 2014

David Crosby is psyched. A week after its release, his new solo album, Croz, is one notch above Neil Young’s Live at the Cellar Door in online sales. The bruising CSNY ego battles of decades past are now more like affectionate rivalries between brothers. “After 43 years, I finally got a hit!” laughs Crosby, a two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, from his family’s cozy abode in the Santa Ynez Mountains. No one but him could be more delighted—or surprised— to see his latest foray into the fertile intersection of folk, rock and jazz scaling the Billboard charts and chilling in Amazon’s Top 10 alongside the latest drops from Bruce Springsteen and Daft Punk.

The Twittersphere is abuzz with news of Crosby’s “comeback” and these kudos are particularly welcome because Crosby, now 72, never really went away. His late-‘90s band CPR—a trio with his gifted keyboard-playing son, James Raymond, and the versatile guitarist Jeff Pevar—released four excellent albums that hardly anyone heard. In 2004, Crosby and his soul mate in harmony, Graham Nash, issued a fine double album that was criminally overlooked. Why is Crosby finally getting the props he deserves? In part, it’s because Croz breaks in bold new directions for the singer- songwriter. It embraces elements of electronica and world music that make it sound completely fresh, without surrendering the soul-searching, mysterioso quality that has always distinguished his best work, from “Guinnevere” to “Déjà Vu” to the moody excursions with members of the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane on his 1971 masterpiece If I Could Only Remember My Name.

Check out the heavily syncopated opening of “What’s Broken,” with a lyric about the “molecules” of a “buzzing city” (seen from the perspective of a homeless man) that shimmers like a page from one of William Gibson’s dystopias. “Morning Falling”—a stunning freeze-frame of the remote-control killing of an Afghan family by an American drone—sounds like nothing Crosby has ever done before, with a mournful Arab-inflected melody and aching woodwinds.

By contrast, "Radio and "Find A Heart" are two of the most upbeat songs that he has ever recorded--rousing tributes to the redemptive powers of love and compassion. And “Dangerous Night” unfolds with anthemic majesty over looping keyboard figures and martial drum samples, finding consolation in a postmodern balancing act between alienation and faith. Loops, samples, postmodern doubt, drone warfare? When did the shaggy paterfamilias of unreconstructed hippiedom get so hip?

Part of the answer is that Crosby—always a more forward-looking musician than he gets credit for—ceded a considerable amount of creative control over this project to Raymond, whose compositions, keyboards and arranging prowess turned the tracks on Croz into cinematic landscapes that will haunt your dreams. Raymond—who was given up for adoption by his mother as a baby and reunited with his father only after he had established his own career—was a full-on collaborator at every stage of the process, including the recording of the album in his home studio. This 21st-century DIY approach (complete with his famous dad crashing on the couch at night) enabled the father- and-son team to hone their idiosyncratic musical vision to crystal clarity without interference from meddling major-label suits.

“James walked in the door a better musician than I will ever be,” Crosby says. “He listens to lots of stuff from a very wide range of genres, from classical to jazz to pop to world music. He has a spectacular sense of time, and the way he strings a melody across a set of chords is just astounding. We work as equals—he’s not in awe of me at all. James has no problem saying, ‘I like that, but what about doing it this way instead?’”

Much of the press coverage has naturally focused on the man who puts the C in CSNY, but James Raymond, who has also clocked in time with CSN, is just as close to the heart of the album’s creative process.

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