David Crosby: Deja Who?

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The name might be familiar, it has been part of the Byrds, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, but recently, just David Crosby.  Crosby, or Croz as he is frequently known, is a survivor of the 1960s, drug addiction, a liver transplant, a stretch in a Texas prison, and the highs and lows of a long career in rock music.

As a member of various musical collaborations, David Crosby established himself as a poet of anthems of protest and of deep, spiritual love.  His smooth, lilting voice was part of famous harmonies and was often coupled with his longtime friend, Graham Nash.  Until recently, the Crosby & Nash collaboration sang background on some of the most famous and successful songs of the past five decades.  But no more.  Crosby had a falling out with both Graham Nash and Neil Young, perhaps ending any future work together. He has a tendency to say what’s on his mind despite the consequences.

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So David Crosby goes it alone now.  He seems okay with it and is quite busy writing, recording and touring on his own.  In fact, the past two years, he has released a pair of new albums.  He often writes on Twitter how the current technology of streaming and sharing of music deprives him and many others of any fair income for the use of their musical history.  While he continues to record new music, he says the income stream from new and old recordings is slim.  And so he tours, which allows fans to enjoy his musical legacy, while earning him a living.  Gone are the old days of filling massive venues and having songs at the top of the chart. Also gone are the extravagances and various drug dependencies. This ain’t 1974, being an old rock and roll star is hard work. By the way, if you want to know why this is subtitled “Deja Who,” Crosby wrote a song for CSN&Y’s first album called Déjà Vu, which was the name of the album.

Last year, Crosby released an album called Lighthouse. It was a mostly acoustic album filled with what I call unfocused and unfinished songs. Was it a bad group of songs? No. They were pleasant but meandering and few were memorable after several listens. His best songs have hooks and leave you thinking about them. These songs had me wondering if I should go ahead and flip to the next one. The best part of this album is his voice, which has never sounded better, and despite years of hard living, he can still connect those notes and climb the scale.

On the heels of Lighthouse came Sky Trails. As he toured to support Lighthouse, I heard he was selling Sky Trails at the merchandise table at his concerts ahead of a formal release. The word of mouth about this second album was very positive. My first listen of Sky Trails had me thinking that Crosby was back on track. Granted, Crosby never strays too far away from his tried and true style of songwriting and arrangement, but the difference is in the quality of the songs. Reteaming with guitarist Jeff Pevar and son James Patterson, the songs are tighter, have more definition and better tonal structure.

David Crosby lives in a time when only his old songs will air on the radio, courtesy of classic rock stations. What his songs might lacked in dynamic musical essence they make up for in emotion and a journey of discovery. His voice powers the songs like a warm updraft propelling a paraglider along an ocean cliff.

When I think of his songs, titles and word fragments appear: wooden ships, defiantly not cutting his hair, the delta, longtime gone, Guinnevere, a triad of lovers, the shadow captain, the critical mass of the whale, bittersweet, mama lion, laughing, and homeward through the haze.

On social media someone told him they enjoyed attending one of his recent shows, until Crosby brought up his political views and dislike for Trump. Crosby defiantly responded, if you like Trump and dislike progressives, do not come to his shows. The old lion still has his growl.

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