Here If You Listen
In one of the great – and knowing – Simpsons cameos, David Crosby appears as himself (“Homer’s Barbershop Quartet”) awarding the Be Sharps with a Grammy. Barney, Springfield’s town drunk declares Crosby his hero. “Thanks, you like my music?” asks a sincere Crosby. And just ahead of one of his trademark belches Barney screeches incredulously, “You’re a musician!?” A fair question in 1993 (and 1983 – and 2003). Maybe all that Crosby had by then was his back-story, which was killer. And because it didn’t kill him, only his career, you could thinly hope that one day it may make him stronger.
Well we first saw that day with 2014’s surprise CROZ. That was one heck of a comeback and I knew there was something special about it at the time – but really it’s a signpost, the start of something. There’s been three further albums – which means over half of Crosby’s solo discography has arrived in the last half decade.
He’s getting stronger by the album too. It’s beyond remarkable.
Across 2016’s Lighthouse, 2017’s Sky Trails and now Here If You Listen (from late 2018) Crosby has been refining the band and his music, building though each time with such a creative outpouring, such offerings from the muse. Snarky Puppy’s bassist Michael League has been crucial across all three albums. Joining him and Croz here is keyboardist Michelle Willis and guitarist/vocalist Becca Stevens. The quartet has appeared on a track or two across the last albums but now there’s no further help – no horns or outside backing vocalists. They are the heavenly choir in and of themselves; they provide the sparse, subtle, lithe musical accompaniment.
It’s a band. But a band in support of Crosby’s vision.
He’s a month or two of 78 (“I’ve been thinking of dying/how to do it well/how to stand up and face it/or just lie how I fell/it’s a matter of honour”) and he sounds – vocally – as good as he has and – lyrically – as wise as ever.
Those tunings, those chordal shifts. If we can’t have Joni Mitchell making new music why not one of her earliest champions. Crosby even closes this album off with a second crack at Ms. Mitchell’s Woodstock. It’s there to remind us, also, of how he’s one of the last of that breed; the idealistic kids that went to Woodstock, that have been fighting their version of a freedom-march (even if mostly in their heads) ever since.
What’s important here is that Croby, just seven albums into a solo career – but likely with another just around the corner at the rate he’s going – is making the best music of his lifetime. And when you’ve been in The Byrds and Crosby/Stills/Nash/(Young) that’s hopefully saying something. When you’ve written Cowboy Movie and Guinnevere and Almost Cut My Hair and had a hand in Eight Miles High you’ve arguably done enough already. But here he rivals James Taylor at his best (I Am No Artist,), Jaco-era Joni (Buddha On A Hill) and reimagines Jackson Browne through those slippery jazz-folk leanings of his own earliest post-CSN work (Your Own Ride).
Here If You Listen feels like the real 50th Anniversary of Astral Weeks – in some spiritual sense. Or a palinode of sorts to his own mercurial 1971 solo debut, If I Could Only Remember My Name…
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