David Crosby – ‘Here If You Listen’ (2018)

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Feature photo: Henry Diltz/Courtesy of the artist

Perhaps the most under-reported story in rock these days is the remarkable comeback of two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee David Crosby. Yeah sure, it’s been making the rounds in music news outlets and even in mainstream journalism, but merely noting that a 60s and 70s icon who made three solo records as a young guy in the 20th century and later made four as a septuagenarian hardly portrays how truly remarkable this late-career revival is. These records are all solid efforts, a refreshing return to time-tested values in crafting music.

That fourth album Here If You Listen continues the roll, but Crosby doesn’t take the easy way out and merely repeat the same winning recipe. In many ways, Here If You Listen is David Crosby’s most direct link back to his 1971 masterpiece, If I Can Only Remember My Name. While Crosby’s eloquent and poetic songwriting had always been a crucial part of his projects, sometimes there was also the jazz changes, the musicianship of the session players and the pure, effortless vocal of Crosby himself to marvel at as well. With Here, he comes full circle back to the thing that made If I Can Only Remember My Name such an immense pleasure: those gorgeous harmonies.

Snarky Puppy linchpin Michael League lent a light production touch to Lighthouse, a song cycle that featured Crosby’s stacked vocals backed by his acoustic guitar and some unobtrusive accouterments provided by League. It was commendable that Crosby put himself in the hands of a someone from a later generation and cut from a different cloth who coaxed the ol’ veteran out of his comfort zone, making that 2016 release a notable entry in this rapidly expanding discography. After the fully produced Sky Trails (2017), Crosby turned again to League but with a new twist.

As before, League dispenses with drums and keeps the instruments in the backdrop, which makes this a very intimate record. Now though, the sonic footprint is altered and enriched by David Crosby sharing vocals (and songwriting credits) full time on a near-equal basis with singer-songwriters Michelle Willis and Becca Stevens, with League filling in nearly every remaining chore. The three were first heard harmonizing together on Lighthouse‘s last track “By the Light of a Common Day,” and the chemistry was honed during the Sky Trails tour.

Croz trades verses with Stevens and Willis on “Glory,” set against a backdrop of minimal instrumentation and richly blended voices. Stevens’ baritone guitar shows up to give “Vagrants of Venice” an edgy undercurrent, and Crosby’s double-tracked vocal is cast opposite Stevens and Willis, converging together beautifully to finish stanzas.

League’s touch behind the glass shows a creative, unconventional approach that’s earned him the notice he’s brought to Snarky Puppy, using it to enhance David Crosby’s style, not supplant it. “1967” initially sounds like a demo from 1967, until League allows in a rich cascade of voices in this lyric-less song that demands your headphones. “Balanced On A Pin” likewise begins barren with spectral timbres discreetly seeping in. And it might be hard to go past that lush harmony vocals, but there’s some tasty rhythm guitars backing “I Am No Artist.” Willis lends her pen as well as a sly Fender Rhodes to the sassy slab of soul that is “Janet.”

Crosby’s trademark frankness in his lyrics are here, too, as he muses about his own mortality on “Your Own Ride,” singing, “I’ve been thinking about dying/How to do it well/How to stand up and face it/Or just lie where I fell.” The album concludes with the only cover: “Woodstock” splits the difference between CSN’s version and Joni Mitchell’s original, pulling in the best elements of both.

While nearly all of his contemporaries have either flamed out or ambled off into the sunset, David Crosby keeps charging toward the sunrise. This music is a hell of a drug.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at [email protected] .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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