CronNaMyth 1.0: 2 OUT OF 3 AIN’T HALF BAD. After the initial flurry of CS&N solo albums, none of which mercifully featured tin pan alley standards or 30 minutes of therapeutic wailing, Graham Nash and David Crosby decided to re-form as a duo with the support of a band of session players dubbed The Mighty Jitters: Craig Doerge (keyboards), Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar (guitar), Russell Kunkel (drums) and Leland Sklar (bass). The results on Graham Nash/David Crosby were good enough to sustain the pair’s commercial momentum, going gold soon after its release and generating two singles including the Top 40 “Immigration Man,” which could be seen as a cross between The Beatles’ “The Ballad of John & Yoko” (thematically) and “Taxman” (musically and especially in Greg Reeves’ insistent bass track). Rather than re-create the soaring harmonies of CS&N, however, this reunion essentially amounts to half of a solo album each from Crosby and Nash shuffled together. Nash’s contributions favor the Bob Dylan/Beatles sound set forward on earlier songs like “Our House” (in fact, “Strangers Room,” originally written in 1969, sounds like that song filtered through Traffic), while Crosby’s songs suggest a male Joni Mitchell: jazzy and mysterious and troubled. Over their careers, many of these songs would be counted among their best: “Southbound Train,” “Page 43,” “The Wall Song,” “Immigration Man,” “Strangers Room.” The financial motivation for such a merger can’t be discounted, yet Graham Nash/David Crosby remains one of the most gratifying extracurricular outings from the CS&N axis, a snapshot of two artists still at their peak. Crosby and Nash were happy enough with the result to repeat the experiment in the mid 70s and even tour together, though neither Wind On The Water nor Whistling Down The Wire matched the success of their first.
The pair’s second project together produced another gold record and a minor hit in Crosby’s “Carry Me.” Although nothing on here is as catchy as “Southbound Train,” it’s still a solid effort, buoyed by excellent playing and some good material from Crosby (“Low Down Payment,” “Homeward Through The Haze”). The songs from Nash are crankier this time and less satisfying, with “Mama Lion” being the best of his bits (the album smartly leads off with its two best tracks). A pair of songs credited to Crosby and Nash together are also highlights and invite the closest comparison to the work of CSN: “Naked In The Rain” and “To The Last Whale.” Listening to this record, I’m often reminded of Steely Dan. The songwriting isn’t nearly as strong, but the backing band (The Mighty Jitters) does a great job of adding the right touches to the music. “Bittersweet” and “Homeward Through The Haze,” for example, might have dissipated into nothing if not for the flesh-and-blood arrangements of the band. Crosby and Nash also call in a few favors with guest appearances from Jackson Browne, Levon Helm, Carole King and James Taylor. None of them feature prominently in the music, but you can’t help but be impressed. The closing “To The Last Whale” is arguably the most ambitious thing that the pair have tried together. It starts with a kind of plainchant opening (“Critical Mass”), then shifts into the title track, which seeks to save the whale by song and remains one of my favorite Crosby/Nash moments. It’s certainly not a perfect record and not on a par with the best of CSN, but Wind On The Water promises smooth sailing for Crosby/Nash fans.
Kronomyth 7.0: TROPICALIFORNIA ROCK. Dave Mason continued to maintain a high profile despite his lack of a hit single. He graced the cover of Guitar Player Magazine (October 1975), rested comfortably in the US Top 40 with his new album (Split Coconut) and went out on tour with the latest version of the Dave Mason Band. The tropical album cover and two island-themed opening tracks are a tease, however; Split Coconut is simply a continuation of the music that Mason had been making all along. It’s a professional affair from beginning to end, with some updated keyboard sounds (courtesy of Mark Jordan and Jay Winding, in what appears to be a mid-session keyboard chair change) and an extra infusion of funk (“Split Coconut,” “Save Your Love”). If Mason seems to have settled into a groove as far as making solo records, longtime listeners will settle into the same groove soon enough. “Save Your Love,” “Two Guitar Lovers” (written by singer Maureen Gray, who had performed with George Harrison, John Lennon and Eric Clapton), an island-tinged cover of Buddy Holly’s “Crying, Waiting & Hoping” and the freebirdin’ “Long Lost Friend” are all solid songs. The rest of the record is the same sort of generic guitar rock you’ll find on most of Mason’s mid-Seventies records. I realize that “generic” is a dismissive word, and I don’t mean to dismiss the man’s effort; instead, the sensation on these records is that Mason is more or less trying to write the same kind of song ten different times, and so you don’t encounter the range of styles that you might on a George Harrison or Eric Clapton record. His workmanlike approach to songwriting also means that nothing on here is a work of art so much as well-crafted product. Splitting hairs, I suppose, since you either like Dave Mason or you don’t, with love and hate being rare reactions.
CroNaMyth 3.0: WASTED ON THE WAIT. Each C&N album seems a little less magical than the last, as if with each rubbing of the lamp their collective genie-us grew weaker. There was still enough magic left to produce a gold record out of Whistling Down The Wire, but not enough to produce a hit single from “Out of the Darkness.” I’ve listened to this album dozens of times (it was the first C&N album I owned) and, even so, rarely walk away humming any of it. The two Crosby-Nash songwriting collaborations—“Broken Bird,” “Taken At All”—are the obvious highlights, as they deliver on the promise of pretty harmonies and thoughtful pacing. I also enjoy Nash’s bittersweet “Marguerita.” The rest of the record could accurately be described as mid 70s studio rock, of which there was hardly a deficiency during the decade. The subsequent CSN reunion revealed the Crosby & Nash collaboration for what it was: a gold solution to a multiplatinum phenomenon. When CSN dissolved again, Nash continued the experiment on his own with Earth & Sky while Crosby wrestled with his demons. Given the troubled history of CSN&Y, there’s no reason to believe that the Crosby-Nash affiliation was motivated by anything other than money. Of course, lots of things are motivated by money, and some of them still have benevolent consequences. As I’ve mused elsewhere, the Crosby-Nash albums were a kindness to fans because they put the pair’s best feet forward, one foot from each. And they had the support of the Mighty Jitters, one of the best backing bands this side of Muscle Shoals. You’ll want the proper CSN albums before this, the first two solo albums from Crosby and Nash individually and the first two C&N albums too; if you’ve acquired those and still wish for Wire, have at it.
CroNaMyth 4.0: IT WAS SO NICE OF YOU TO COME. CSNY is a discographer’s green maze of delight. You have the CSN albums proper (they actually released one in 1977), the alliances (Crosby-Nash, Stills-Young), the solo albums, the genealogy (Byrds, Hollies, Buffalo) and the cameos. Kind of a self-sustaining ecosystem of soft rock, really. In fact, it’s a pretty big world; so big that an album like Crosby-Nash Live naturally gets lost. Discovering a cut-cornered copy in a record store (as I did) fills out a branch on the family tree with one more leaf. If you’re out on the same limb thinking it looks a little thin, Live may leaf you happier. The digitally remastered CD version even adds two tracks. Now, little on Live is going to change your world. The versions of “The Leeshore” and “Déjà Vu” are great, and Crosby doesn’t hack up a lung or anything, so it has to be counted a success on some level. Still, you wonder how many people really came here salivating to see the pair sing “Fieldworker” or “Foolish Man.” The Crosby-Nash catalog isn’t exactly a gold mine waiting for rediscovery, after all. It was a business partnership, one that spared many of us from having to wade through six mediocre albums from Crosby and Nash individually instead of three collectively. If you’ve waded this far out, Live is something of a reward. The musical interplay is more interesting on stage than in the studio, and if the vocals aren’t, the Crosby-Nash vocal dynamic was never that magical to begin with. Out ending on a preposition.