Croz is only David Crosby’s fourth solo outing, despite it being some 43 years since he released his debut, If I Could Only Remember My Name – a bona-fide, psychedelic folk classic (and, according to an official list released in 2010, the Vatican’s second favourite album of all time). Perhaps it was the sky-high standard set by that first record that stunted his future growth as a solo artist – or, more likely, it was due to the cornucopia of drugs that increasingly captured Crosby’s attentions over the decades.
Indeed, unless someone has beaten me to it, I’ve got a mind to snag the film rights to the man’s life story – it’s prime-cut, Oscar-bait, weepie-epic, riches-to-rags-to-riches material. After achieving commercial success as well as critical acclaim with The Byrds and Crosby, Stills and Nash (and later, Neil Young), the tragic death of his girlfriend in a car crash sparked a downward spiral of substance abuse that would eventually see him addicted to freebase and doing jail time by 1982. The tales of those lost years are too many to cover but here’s a taster: in 1994 Phil Collins paid for Crosby’s liver transplant. Phil Collins, ladies and gentlemen. At the age of 72, Crosby has thankfully overcome many of his demons and has been back on the road with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash for a series of high-profile tours over the past few years, coinciding with an overdue surge in admiration from new generations of critics and musicians alike.
Since beating his addictions, Crosby’s onstage persona has oscillated between three different sides: firstly the mid-set comic relief, making jokes at the expense of his own troubled past; secondly an angry counterculture veteran spitting righteous ire about US foreign policy and thirdly, a quiet, fragile old man, very aware of the mistakes he’s made and gushing in his thanks to those who helped him get his life back in order, such as Graham Nash. This latter Crosby dominates this record, where self-analysis and reflection are touched upon in every song. “Set That Baggage Down” for example, is virtually a self-help manual drawing from Crosby’s experience of countless Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
As well as Nash, another big factor in the success of Crosby’s return to music seems to be the presence and contribution of his son – pianist James Raymond. Given up for adoption as a child, the two only met for the first time in 1995 and soon found themselves collaborating musically as CPR (with Jeff Pevar). Raymond now tours with CSN and also co-wrote and produced Croz (nice ending for the biopic right?).
Raymond’s influence (and piano) is all over the album – opener “What’s Broken” sets the tone, with its breezy guitar details and beautiful multi-part harmonies offset by Crosby asking “Who wants to see an abandoned soul?” and “Who wants to know what desperate is?”. The laid-back pace and contemplative mood then doesn’t really evolve over the 11 songs, and although Croz doesn’t outstay its welcome, there is a nagging feeling that the slickness of the production and instrumentation don’t play to Crosby’s strengths as a singer or songwriter. It never really feels like he’s allowed to let loose vocally and the tight arrangements can’t compare to the more improvisational atmosphere of his greatest songs. Only “The Clearing” embraces the classic CSN sound, with its robust 12-string riffs and rock n’ roll tendencies. Nonetheless it is still genuinely interesting to hear Crosby’s beautifully clear voice on “Dangerous Night”, with its sparse chords and Postal Service-referencing (honestly!) drum machine rattle.
Crosby has often joked that CSN work as a supergroup because of the differences in songwriting style – Nash has a knack for anthems, Stills specialises in rock n’ roll, whilst Crosby himself writes the ‘weird shit’. It’s a pity then that Croz retains little of the haphazard spirit of If I Could Only Remember My Name or even the soulful roar of CSN’s “Almost Cut My Hair”. If this is the price we have to pay to have a clean, healthy Crosby still walking amongst us then so be it. However I think, given time, Crosby, with Raymond’s help, could be ready to enter the most prolific period of his long musical career, and who knows what that might bring? The jazz leanings of album closer “Find A Heart”, with its episodic structure and sublime vocal coda, certainly suggest Crosby still has a lot to give.