Veteran folk-rocker continues his half-century of music with his latest album, ‘Sky Trails,’ out Sept. 29.
At age, 77, David Crosby is a “lion in winter” – sage in the ways of the world he serenades, with leonine hair and a history of stirring up trouble through song. One difference, though: This lion’s voice retains the purity that distinguished it more than 50 years ago. Experience informs his views; playfulness give it the sly spin of youth.
Most remarkably, in this chapter of his career as a solo artist, Crosby continues to evolve. In fact, he’s pushed beyond the concept of “solo album.” His newest release out Friday, “Here If You Listen,” isn’t really his album alone. Technically, it’s a collective effort involving four equal partners. For him, this is undiscovered and invigorating territory.
“What we did in Crosby, Stills & Nash was only occasionally a collaboration, like ‘Wooden Ships’ with Paul Kantner, Stephen Stills and me,” he says. “But mostly it was a very competitive environment. Each of us wanted to have our songs be better than their songs. Competitive effort winds up in war. Collaborative effort winds up in a symphony orchestra. It can be difficult. It’s actually kind of amazing if you can pull it off because people’s egos get in the way. I’ve never even seen it done with four people at once. But that’s what we’re doing here.”
“We” is Crosby and vocalist/instrumentalists Michael League, Becca Stevens and Michelle Willis. They first worked together on Crosby’s 2016 album “Lighthouse”; for “Here If You Listen” they wrote, arranged and recorded as one over just a single month. With the focus on acoustic instruments and vocals that range from individual whispers to kaleidoscopic harmonies, it confirms the success of Crosby’s egalitarian experiment.
Not unexpectedly, politics surface here and there, most noticeably in “Other Half Rule.” But this music prescribes more than it attacks, advising that “if you don’t like the story you’re in, pick up your pen and write it again” on “1974” and observing that “a calm soul is wisdom and it comes with age” on “On Your Own Ride.”
“We’re living in turbulent times,” Crosby says. “This is a terrible time for the United States of America. We’re in danger of completely losing our 200-year-old democracy. People are generally stressed out to the max. They need music! Music lifts us and brings out the best in us. That’s one of the main reasons we make music; it’s what we’re supposed to be doing.”
Is it the artist’s responsibility, then, to craft songs as antidotes to unease? “I think of it more as an opportunity,” he clarifies. “If you’re a conscious human being and you see something like Kent State taking place, then you’re going to want to write “Ohio.” I try to celebrate the good stuff and call bullshit on the things I disagree with – racism, sexism, war. But that’s only part of the deal. Our main job is not to be watchmen. It’s really just to tell you stories and hopefully take you on emotional voyages. If there’s a purposeful edge to what I’m doing now, it’s just to make good music.”
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