critic’s pick 315: david crosby, ‘croz’

crozBy the end of Croz, David Crosby’s first studio solo album in over two decades, the folk-rock forefather sounds quietly but assuredly upbeat.

“All the goodness that lies within is just around the bend,” he sings in the Croz-closing Find a Heart over summery saxophone lines and a spacious, jazz-like groove. If the tune reads like the concluding chapter of a self-help manual, so be it. At 72, Crosby has survived the self-destruction of several rock ‘n’ roll lifetimes to earn a fleeting spot in the sun.

But it is very fleeting and Croz is less an affirmation and more of a meditation that often travels along very dark corridors. Its songs seek identity – not for Crosby necessarily, but for those he encounters as he continues to search out a sense of peace that, over the years, has become less socially driven and more personal.

“Who wants to see an abandoned soul?” asks Crosby in the chorus of What’s Broken as he views a rogues gallery of personas that shift from the lonely to the purely desperate. Those sentiments reach a zenith on If She Called, where he views a pack of prostitutes with largely paternal concern. The way these songs lead to the solace of Find a Heart makes Croz double as an album of discovery.

Croz is also a gorgeous listen. Working again with son James Raymond, the album wraps the wary, conversational tone of Crosby’s singing with light, keyboard dominate arrangements that sound less like his fabled work with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash and more like a pensive version of Steely Dan.

A few guests offer fittingly tasteful colors to this mix, like the patient, winding guitar solo that Mark Knopfler weaves through What’s Broken and Wynton Marsalis’ blue-hued trumpet line during Holding On To Nothing that underscores the tune’s uneasy calm as well as the conflicted ghosts that inhabit it (“Even words from a friend can bring back the pain”).

But Crosby’s prime co-hort remains Raymond, who helps construct Croz not as the confession of a folkie elder but as the work of a vital, worldly and very adult songsmith happily reaching out of his comfort zone. Alternately contemplative and uneasy (which inadvertently gives this music a wintry appeal), Croz is a quietly bracing work that balances familiarity and invention.

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