Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Crosby-Nash 2004

Crosby Nash 2004

While nobody was looking, David Crosby and Graham Nash have recorded one of the most powerful, poignant, and musically solid albums of the year. A couple of songs here -- "Lay Me Down" and "Jesus of Rio" -- stand up with the very best work of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, but this album is not a hollow nostalgia exercise by a couple of quaint relics of the Woodstock Nation. Instead, it's a master class in songwriting and performance from two artists who have retained their integrity and commitment to innovation even after decades of being ignored or ridiculed by the mainstream press.Hearing this album in the era of George Bush is like discovering that a wilderness area that was supposed to have been paved over to build another Wal-Mart was somehow spared and is thriving with new life.

The last few CSN/CSNY projects have seemed enervated and oddly plastic, but "Crosby/Nash" charges into new musical territory while retaining the smart soul-searching lyrics, melodic exploration, and exquisite harmonies that made these guys so beloved in the first place. Some of the credit for the freshness of this album belongs to the band, which includes Crosby's astonishingly talented son James Raymond on keyboards, the very fine young guitar player Jeff Pevar (respectively, the R and P of Crosby's underrated band CPR), and under-the-radar guitar genius Dean Parks, who provided the witty, stinging guitar lines on Steely Dan classics like "Haitian Divorce." The presence of drummer Russ Kunkel and bass player Lee Sklar -- the celebrated rhythm section on dozens of albums by the likes of James Taylor and Jackson Browne -- reaffirms a continuity with the duo's earlier work, but even Kunkel and Sklar sound reinvigorated here. This is not your mother's singer-songwriter album, but beefier and more muscular, as befits a funkier age.

"Jesus of Rio," co-written with Pevar, is one of the most moving and majestic performances of Nash's career, featuring an uncredited backing vocal from James Taylor and a luminous Bill Evans-esque solo introduction by Raymond. Like several of the songs on "C/N," its central theme is what Crosby calls, in another song, "quiet grace" -- the redemptive power of love and mindfulness of the small, precious, transitory glories of existence ("for every human is holy to someone") . The prevailing mood of this album -- as expressed in songs like Crosby's "Through Here Quite Often" -- recalls a poem by William Butler Yeats:

My fiftieth year had come and gone,
I sat, a solitary man,
In a crowded London shop,
An open book and empty cup
On the marble table-top.
While on the shop and street I gazed
My body of a sudden blazed;
And twenty minutes more or less
It seemed, so great my happiness,
That I was blessed and could bless.

Other strong songs on this album include Marc Cohn's lovely "I Surrender," and Crosby and Raymond's hip and slinky "Luck Dragon," featuring a lyric written at a CSNY end-of-tour party. "Don't Dig Here" and "They Want It All" face corporate greed and environmental squandering head-on, and Nash's "Half Your Angels" is a haunting tribute to the children who died in the Oklahoma City bombing that seems even more resonant in the post

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