Three Blind Mice, Inc. under exclusive license to BMG Rights Management (US) LLC
The Crosby comeback has been a subtly remarkable feat. I trace it to 2014’s CROZ, a lovely surprise. Rich, gentle songs, gorgeously held by his voice, caressed further by the production. Given the two decades of headlines and punchlines that preceded it, there was almost no right for it to be that good. And then you remembered Crosby’s founding hand in The Byrds and that it was always his name out front for Crosby, Stills & Nash/Young; his harmonies the absolute key.
Miraculously, the sense of all of that, and his now 50-year-old solo classic, If I Could Only Remember My Name, was further evoked across three albums that arrived in quick succession between 2016 and 2018, culminating in the mercurial Here If You Listen.
To add to the charm offensive, Croz was funny and self-aware on Twitter, a talking head on several docos – and the gnarly subject of one himself. He might be unlikeable if you probe, but the music he was now making again – finally – was exquisite. And, fuck, at least he wasn’t Van Morrison eh!
And then there was a bit too much whining about loss of income and how, with personal health issues, and then the global health issue we currently face he could no longer tour. He couldn’t earn, and he had a few rants about his frustration with the delivery and payment for albums – which seemed a bit misguided if anything; he’d been more than duly compensated for his service across the years, dined out through being there for popular music’s commercial heyday…
But anyway, his concerns are still real. And a month off turning 80 he returns to album-making, releasing the results of his lockdown recording…
And good lord, but For Free is another mini masterpiece.
That voice continues to defy any odds or expectations. He sounds half his age. Here is a guy who by many rights should not be alive – and contemplation of mortality remains a theme through these songs.
Opener, River Rise, features another of the great backing/harmony specialists of the 1970s and 80s, Michael McDonald. They sing about not washing away as the river rises and letting the clock run out with not much to care about. It wouldn’t be that great if the production and playing wasn’t sublime. And it sets up the flow and feel of the album – but it’s also an obvious click-bait single. The celeb-duet. It’s fine. Good, even. But the next song, I Think, is on a whole other level.
This sits somewhere between his mid-2010s renaissance and even hints at the masterful art of that vaunted debut; folk-rock epoch.
Crosby’s son, James Raymond, offers up the tune The Other Side of Midnight, which somehow signposts both Steely Dan and Joni Mitchell – which will be features of this album. Midnight is the album’s first utter gem. A timeless shine to it. The voice resplendent.
And then we get a brand new song by Donald Fagen, you can’t hide a Steely Dan feel – and Rodriguez at Night is pushed into place by Crosby’s voice – soaring of course. But it just announces itself as a Steely Dan song straight away. The chords. The modulation. The horns, a guitar solo – all the elements. It is resplendent.
The title track is a Joni Mitchell ballad, served up here via the piano and in duet with Sarah Jarosz; she’s 50 years Crosby’s junior and their voices, here entwined, were meant to be together.
This is one of David’s favourite Joni tunes – and the simple piano-based arrangement is a moving tribute to the lyric, the writer and the sentiment; it’s here recast by the decision to use it as album title-track. I’d rather hear Crosby lament the music industry’s foibles and inequalities this way, rather than, you know, on Twitter.
Everything about this album is right. If it’s his finale, a victory lap, then it’s perfect. If it sets up even more from Crosby then it is as much of a hinge as 1971’s legendary first record and 2014’s surprise comeback.
Closer, I Won’t Stay For Long, is primed and ready to run over the credits of a Hollywood weepie. He got me. Again.