As the opening “What’s Broken” elevates into a cirrus-cloud of lonesome reverie, Crosby reclaims every lost promise of his solo career — dormant now for two decades and, aside from 1971’s If I Could Only Remember My Name, largely forgettable. Certainly, it’s been nothing befitting a two-time hall of famer with a crystalline voice so tender and unaffected that it places a finger right on your heart. Croz appears ready to correct that egregious wrong, and from the first.
It’s not quite that kind of triumph — there probably aren’t enough hooks here to make it a true classic — but Croz is a surprisingly diverse, often enjoyable, forward-looking return.
“If She Called” points away from the confessional work that has often dominated Crosby’s solo efforts, as he builds on a “Guinevere”-esque musical atmosphere to craft a tale of stirring narrative specificity. The imagery of call girls, trying with all of their might to save some shred of themselves, vibrates with a writerly attention to detail. Meanwhile, “Holding on to Nothing” is touchingly confessional, so quiet that it’s almost diaphanous. “Dangerous Night,” from its topical subject matter to its modern cadence, likewise pushes Crosby’s art into a new place.
The album is glued together with moments from a more familiar trajectory like “The Clearing,” a Crosby Stills and Nash-inflected track that’s layered, boisterous, peppered with piercing imagery. “Slice of Time” brilliantly recalls the dream-state ambience of If Only I Could, but without the draggy unburdening that so often stopped Yes I Can dead in its tracks. There’s even a whisper of flinty Byrds-style jangle rock on “Set that Baggage Down,” a tale of redemptive joy that serves as a highlight on Croz.
At its best, this record (due January 27, 2014 via his own Blue Castle Records) combines Crosby’s most identifiable personal attributes with propulsive, boldly current musical vehicles. But it doesn’t ignore his past or make the awful mistake of conventionalizing Crosby, either — something that doomed his most recent album, the slickery Thousand Roads. Crosby, even accounting for these sonic updates, sounds like himself again.
Unfortunately, that means he’s brought along some of that previously mentioned baggage, too. “Time I Have,” this circuitous rumination on urban distractions, arrives in desperate need of a road map, as Croz — and not for the last time — finds its momentum slowed by Crosby’s career-long tendency to meander about in a song. “Morning Falling” is pretty enough, but likewise seems to go nowhere. “Radio,” on the other hand, is simply too repetitive, a riff looking for a song.
Still, Crosby rebounds nicely for the closing “Find a Heart,” a better-contoured pop moment that features this delicately understated assist from saxophonist Steve Tavaglione. There are, in fact, a number of notables who make important contributions here — including Mark Knopfler, who adds a crisp melancholy to “What’s Broken”; as well as bassist Leland Sklar (“Find A Heart”), and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis (“Holding on to Nothing”) — but never to the point of drawing too much attention away.
Instead Croz keeps him firmly in the spotlight. Over a career which hasn’t produced many solo efforts at all, much less albums with even this measure of consistency, this is a very rare thing. And it makes Croz, which finds David Crosby walking out from behind personal demons, glitzy co-stars and even his own musical history, worth celebrating. The album gives shape again to what can only be called an offhanded legend.