Category Archives: David Crosby

David Crosby Discography

david crosby imageThe iconic David Crosby has the distinction of being a member of two of the greatest American rock bands of all time: The Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash. Unfortunately, since then he’s probably spent more time in rehab and prison than the recording studio, and his own legacy consists of an abortive solo career, a few mediocre alliances with Graham Nash and the latter-day CPR in which Crosby reunited with his biological son, James Raymond.

About once a decade, David Crosby begs off his quest to repopulate the planet just long enough to release a solo album and then it’s back to the (head)boards. Lord knows I’ve been buying his solo albums when I can in an effort to keep him in the studio more, but I’m just one person. If you wake up fifty years from now and find the world populated by man-walruses, you only have yourselves to blame.

And of course I’m only kidding. I don’t really think it will take fifty years.

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Jefferson Airplane: Crown of Creation (1968)

Kronomyth 4.0: MY CROWN IS CALLED CONTENT. Picking a favorite Airplane ride is probably fool’s work; they all take you to different places, and it depends on the mood you’re in. The band reined in the experiments of Baxters and wrote what might be their strongest collection of songs for Crown of Creation. Listening to this album, you get the sense that the band had grown up or grown closer. They still continue to bring their individual ideas to the studio, but the arrangements display a groupthink that was noticeably absent on the sprawling Baxters. Marty Balin, for example, is no longer the out-of-place balladeer. Cowriting two tracks with Paul Kantner, the pair strike upon the quintessential Airplane sound, from the trippy “In Time” to the explosive “The House At Pooneil Corners.” Grace Slick breathes life into legend one moment (“Triad”) and cuts down the counterculture scene the next (“Greasy Heart”). Jorma Kaukonen kicks in two surprisingly succinct psych-rockers, “Star Track” and “Ice Cream Phoenix.” Although this doesn’t appear to have been the case, Crown of Creation sounds like a double album of material distilled down to its most essential moments. You won’t find any arid stretches of experimental acid trips (Spencer Dryden’s “Chushingura” exorcises those demons in just over a minute) or unnecessary ego feeding. The tracks that make the cut, like “If You Feel,” are there because they deserve to be there. Maybe the word I’m looking for is balance. Crown of Creation strikes the perfect balance between superlative playing (Jack Casady, Spencer Dryden and Jorma continue to be the music’s diving force), big ideas, advanced production and psychedelic experimentation. It’s all neatly contained by those two bizarre bookends, “Lather” and “The House At Pooneil Corners,” even as it threatens to burst at the seams from rebellion and science fiction. All of the original Airplane albums are great rides, but Crown of Creation may be the least bumpy, which has more to do with the band working from a map than a dampening of their daredevil spirit.

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If I Could Only Remember My Name (1971)

Following CSN&Y’s breakup, David Crosby released an album of airy, evocative songs and instrumentals that typify the time’s affection for spiritual, organic music. With support from the members of Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane (as well as former bandmates Graham Nash and Neil Young), Crosby is free to pursue the occasionally transcendent vocal harmonies of CSN&Y in earnest. As a result, If I Could Only Remember My Name feels most closely aligned with that band’s work, and is perhaps a better bet to please CS&N’s fans than anything from Nash or Stephen Stills. “Tamalpais High (At About 3),” “Laughing” and “Song With No Words (Tree With No Leaves)” are like lost CS&N songs. Similar to that band’s “Guinnevere,” the songs expand on a single riff that grounds the soaring, spirit-like vocals, creating a mesmerizing effect. There are grittier moments on here that recall the work of Neil Young, such as “Cowboy Movie” and “What Are Their Names,” but these social commentaries aren’t the real attraction. While it charted well, the album failed to produce a single that fans could rally around like Stills’ “Love The One You’re With” — the opening “Music Is Love” (cowritten by Nash and Young) is a CSN&Y outtake at best that recalls John Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance,” while the fragmentary “Orleans” is pretty but too short (under two minutes) to make a viable single. If I Could Only Remember My Name remains a lovely and idiosyncratic album, handily the best of Crosby’s solo records. CS&N fans interested in the band’s extracurricular affairs would do well to start here.

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[Review] Graham Nash: Songs For Beginners (1971)

songs for beginners album coverKronomyth 1.0: ALL THINGS MUST NASH. If “Our House” was the best Beatles song the band never wrote, then Songs For Beginners is the best Beatles solo album that none of the Fab Four ever released. That’s not to suggest that Graham Nash was consciously copying The Beatles or Bob Dylan, at least not anymore than anyone else, but his first album combines British pop, ballads and a social conscience in the best possible ways. Though the last member of Crosby, Stills and Nash to release a solo album, Nash made it the best of his career. Honestly, the first three solo albums from Crosby, Stills and Nash were better salve to the wounded hearts of their fans than what John, Paul, George and Ringo had to offer. When I tell you that Songs For Beginners is my favorite solo album from Crosby, Stills or Nash (Neil Young’s Harvest is better in my opinion), it’s with the caveat that I’m a anglophile at heart. Beatles fans should immediately warm up to “Military Madness” and “Be Yourself;” Bobby Keys’ sax solo on “There’s Only One” will also feel like a bit of home. CSN fans will instantly recall “Chicago,” introduced a month earlier on the live 4 Way Street, and appreciate the acoustic “Wounded Bird.” Over the course of the album, Nash emerges as a remarkably complete songwriter. There are a few lyrical missteps (“You’ll wear the coat of questions till the answer hat arrives” from “Wounded Bird” always makes me laugh), but the balance decidedly falls on the side of wisdom and love. Where Stills’ first record was sometimes overshadowed by his guests, and Crosby seemed to prefer working in the shadow of his own inscrutable muse, the supporting musicians on Songs For Beginners are the spice to Nash’s humble pie. Dave Mason, Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh and David Lindley provide a distinctive flavor to Nash’s simple songs without overpowering them (although Mason comes dangerously close). I had secretly hoped that Nash’s first record would sound like the home that “Our House” built. Songs For Beginners doesn’t disappoint. It proves that music can change the world and make it a better place, even if only for half an hour.

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Stephen Stills 2 (1971)

The critical consensus is that the five records that Stills released on Atlantic (six if you count Stills Live) represent his best work. No argument there. Where I tend to part ways with critics is in the put-down of Stills 2 as inferior to the works before (Stephen Stills) and after (Manassas). It is not the beneficiary of stockpiled songs; only “Change Partners” and “Know You Got To Run” are leftovers, to my knowledge anyway. Second albums are often disappointing for this reason. But Stills 2 doesn’t back down from the challenge; it charges into the breach with a dozen new songs that offer something for everyone: ravers (“Relaxing Town”), CSN-styled harmonies (“Singin’ Call”), the blues (“Open Secret”), guitar duels (“Fishes And Scorpions”) and a smartly arranged return to the old buffalo hunting grounds on “Bluebird Revisited.” Honestly, I think these songs stack up fine against the material on the double-album Manassas and rise above Down The Road. As with his first record, Stills invites some of the world’s best guitarists (Eric Clapton, Jerry Garcia and a young Nils Lofgren) and more than holds his own in their esteemed company. While the first album had a genuine hit to rally around, Stills 2 has more surprises in store: the retro raver “Marianne” (it’s a shame Stephen Stills and Steve Miller didn’t play together), the funked-up blues of “Nothin’ To Do But Today,” the sweet southern sound of “Sugar Babe.” Unfortunately, it was “Change Partners” that was tapped as the first single, and listeners may have compared it to “Love The One You’re With” and extrapolated the album’s quality from that single data point, which would be a mistake. On Stills 2, I hear Stephen Stills growing more comfortable as a singer, songwriter and arranger. I know, I did pick on Stills for his lackluster performance on 4-Way Street but, as Stills 2 shows, he’s still a significant talent when fully engaged.

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Graham Nash/David Crosby (1972)

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.

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Roger McGuinn (1973)

Kronomyth 1.0: FREE AS A BYRD. Roger McGuinn’s first album is all over the map: blues, jazz, country, folk, rock, and one song performed on the banjo and Moog synthesizer (“Time Cube,” in case you’re curious). The guest list is an impressive one that includes all of the original Byrds, Bob Dylan and Bruce Johnston. And yet, somehow, Roger McGuinn was roundly ignored by fans and FM radio stations alike. It’s too bad, since the album deserves an audience (at least Brian Eno seems to have picked up a copy, to judge by the cover of Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy). The Byrds’ albums were often eclectic affairs, and McGuinn returns to the same haunts on his own: Dylan-inspired folk rock (“I’m So Restless”), airy/jazzy David Crosby songs (“My New Woman”), songs about planes (“Draggin’) and authentic folk songs (“Heave Away”). McGuinn also steals a page from the Byrds-inspired Eagles (“Lost My Drivin’ Wheel”) and prefigures the island feel of “Don’t You Write Her Off” on “M’Linda.” Where the main Byrdman fails on his first album is in creating a clear persona. He takes pains not to try the same trick twice, and the album’s scattershot approach is its undoing. It’s an interesting record, often engaging, but I couldn’t tell you where the man’s loyalties lie after hearing this album: folk, jazz, pop, rock. This can be filed under “too smart for its own good” if you care, with a caveat that it’s too smart to ignore.

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David Crosby/Graham Nash: Wind On The Water (1975)

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.

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Crosby-Nash: Whistling Down The Wire (1976)

whistling down the wire album coverCroNaMyth 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. [Note: There’s also a remarkably thorough and thoughtful review of this album on a site called Alan’s Albums Reviews, which I encourage you to visit.]

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Crosby-Nash: Live (1977)

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.

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Oh Yes I Can (1989)

Kronomyth 2.0: STILL CROSBY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS. The 80s for David Crosby kind of sucked it as decades go. There was the heroin bust and subsequent prison time (1982), the drunk driving hit and run (1985) and CSN&Y’s American Dream (1988 and arguably the greater of the three crimes). So the decision to release his first solo album in almost 20 years in 1989 must have elicited a reflexive flinch from even his own fan base. And yet Oh Yes I Can is actually a pretty good album. Crosby and the usual suspects (Craig Doerge, Russ Kunkel, Joe Lala, David Lindley, Danny Kortchmar) put together the kind of record you would have expected from the man BEFORE all of the arrests and innuendo. Crosby’s voice is in better shape that I expected and his songwriting is solid: “Oh Yes I Can,” “Lady of the Harbor,” “Tracks In The Dust” and “Drive My Car” prove that the man still has something to say. He also gets some help from friends like James Taylor, Michael Hedges, Graham Nash, John David Souther, Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt; people like that are either going to show up for a funeral or a good album, and it’s the latter this time. Like his first solo album (the name of which escapes me at the moment), Crosby mixes cranky rock songs with complex harmonies, a mixture of earth and sky. After the last couple of Zombie, Stills & Nash albums, Oh Yes I Can is the affirmation that Crosby was alive and, well, still capable of making good music. Honestly, at this stage in his career a pulse would have been considered a comeback, so we’ll call it a welcome back instead.

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“Drive My Car” (1989)

Kronomyth 2.1: A MAINSTREAM ROCK HIT AND RUN. Singles from David Crosby appear about as often as comets, so his label marked the occasion with a music video. It’s not a great music video, but the fact that they kept the man vertical for four minutes is something of an achievement. “Drive My Car” is a solid modern rock track about a man looking for something: love, the past, jelly donuts, I’m not really sure. So solid in fact that it reached #3 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, which you younger readers may know as the Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, not to be confused with the Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart (formerly the Modern Rock Tracks chart). Just more of America’s everyone-gets-a-medal mentality at work again, making the world a more special place one wiener at a time.

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Roger McGuinn: Back From Rio (1991)

Roger McGuinn is back. From Rio (not really). And he brought Tom Petty with him. I guess that’s the premise behind re-launching his solo career after so many years. Back From Rio sounds a lot like Tom Petty, or at least Tom Petty with Don Henley’s brain inside of him. (I don’t know why I’m always taking out people’s brains and putting them in other people’s bodies.) The songs are punchy, polished pop with a noticeable twang, not far removed from the contemporary work of singer/songwriters like Graham Parker and Lindsey Buckingham. The lyrics generally emanate from a failed romance (must be the influence of all those Heartbreakers); the Henley connection occurs in the social correction and anti-materialism found in songs like “Car Phone” and “The Trees Are All Gone.” It’s a very professional affair, affording younger artists (Elvis Costello, Michael Penn) a chance to work with an influential if infrequent artist. McGuinn, never a prolific songwriter, takes help where he can get it: EC is stamped all over “You Bowed Down,” Petty on “King of the Hill.” Combined with McGuinn’s own material (“The Time Has Come,” “Someone To Love”), Back From Rio is remarkably solid. Of course, a lot of people were making music like this: studio pop with ringing guitars and harmonies that could be seen as an alt rock update of The Byrds’ original vision. That McGuinn can lay claim to this legacy puts him ahead of the pack, much as it aided Roy Orbison and The Traveling Wilburys. But the history lesson was lost on most and, despite charting well, Back To Rio went back to the cutout bins. If you missed his emergence from the shadows the first time, this effort is worth a second look.

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Graham Nash: Songs For Survivors (2002)

Solo albums from Graham Nash and David Crosby are as infrequent as Haley’s Comet sightings these days, and no doubt many observers put their telescopes away after Innocent Eyes. It was something of a surprise then that Graham returned to the studio after CSN&Y’s Looking Forward to work on an album of new material. Released almost two years after the fact on independent Artemis Records, Songs For Survivors finds the UK contingent of CS&N alive and well. Pristinely recorded (the liner notes go to the trouble of listing each individual microphone) and produced with father-and-son Russell and Nathaniel Kunkel, Nash’s first new solo album in 16 years is a warm and well-crafted collection of original songs featuring acoustic guitar, harmonica and that seemingly ageless voice. The album is a nod to his past (Songs For Beginners), a tip of the hat to fallen comrades (George Harrison, Cass Elliott, Michael Hedges and writer Allan MacDougall) and a concession to the challenge of simply surviving in this mad, modern age. “The Chelsea Hotel,” “Lost Another One” and “Liar’s Nightmare” address those issues directly, while love songs fill the gaps. Also included is a cover of Richard and Linda Thompson’s “Pavanne” (from First Light), smartly done and smacking of woodsmoked folk. Nash was never the most politically pointed of CSN&Y, yet with age has come a certain amount of crustiness, evidenced by a barbed opening pair in “Dirty Little Secret” (about the 1921 Oklahoma race riots, I have no idea why) and “Blizzard of Lies” (drug abuse). Taking into account that “Nothing in the World” is a (probably unconscious) rewrite of The Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down,” Songs For Survivors shakes out to eight new tracks in 16 years; not enough to suggest a second wind. In fact, we’re still waiting for an encore. However, it’s a markedly better record than his last two, a graceful graying that shares the quality and integrity of recent CS&N albums like After The Storm and Looking Forward.

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