Croz – David Crosby's nickname to those closest to him – is only the singer's fourth studio album as a solo artist in more than four decades. And it is his best since the first, 1971's If I Could Only Remember My Name. That record was a late-psychedelic classic of foggy jamming, choral brawn and counterculture verve, made with a San Francisco super-orchestra of singer-players from Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead and Santana. Croz (Blue Castle) is more precise and intimate in its instrumental tenderness, evoking the minimal grace of Crosby's Byrds-era ballad "Triad" and his escape meditation "The Lee Shore" on Crosby Stills Nash and Young's 1971 live set, 4-Way Street.
Crosby – who is playing a series of rare club shows at New York's City Winery this week, ending February 1st – co-produced this album with his son, keyboard player James Raymond, and they have stripped many of the arrangements to a splindly elegance, allowing more resonant space for Crosby's silvery, resilient singing. In "Holding On to Nothing," there is so little around Crosby's overdubbed harmonies – brushed acoustic guitar and watery electric piano – that the sudden, dotted poignance of Wynton Marsalis' trumpet stands out like reveille. There is even less to "If She Called," a spare, blunt portrait of a sex worker's life on the other side of fantasy: just jazz-spray guitar and Crosby's hushed, solitary vocal, as if that erotic heaven in "Triad" has gone wrong, then worse.
Back From the Edge, Down to Earth
"I'm looking to find some peace within me to embrace," Crosby admits, clear-eyed and mortal, in "Time I Have," one of two songs he wrote on his own for Croz. He co-wrote seven more, most with Raymond, all with the same earthbound lyric tone and urgency, set to the embedded rhythm of days slipping away. "The land going by seems level/But really the tracks are increasingly sloping," Crosby notes in "Slice of Time."
He has cause for regret. Crosby has been to the depths of hippie excess and disastrous irresponsibility. Decades past his worst, he still flinches at reminders. "Even words from a friend can bring back the pain," he concedes in "Holding On to Nothing," a possible – and plausible – reference to the mess of trials his friend Graham Nash recounts in the recent memoir, Wild Tales.
But at 72, Crosby remains a determined utopian with a strong, hopeful streak in his sharp and supple voice. "Radio" is not a yearning for FM radio's good, old underground daze, as you might expect. It is about engagement: the responsibility to answer our neighbors' – and nation's – distress calls. "Reach your hand into the water," Crosby sings over a light-blue pool of electronics and rhythm, "and pull someone out of the sea."
He says as much again at the end of Croz. "Go as deep as you can get," Crosby challenges in "Find a Heart." He's been telling us – and himself – that for as long as he's made records. But Croz is that déjà vu – the singing and seeking – at its reassuring best.
Stream Croz below: