Review: With His Latest Album, ‘For Free,’ David Crosby Again Gives All

David Crosby/For Free/BMG
Four out of Five Stars

Much has been made of the fact that David Crosby has undergone a creative renaissance over the better part of the past decade, a fact that’s affirmed when one considers that in the past seven years he’s released five solo albums, besting by far the track record he achieved early on by offering up only three individual offerings from 1971 through 1993. The twenty-year lull that occurred from that point in his trajectory to his recent reemergence suggests that a landmark 80th birthday made him determined to make as much music as he can in the time he has left to do so. The recent documentary, Remember My Name, clearly sheds some light on Croz’s desire and determination, given his confessionary remorse and regret for mistakes made in the past.

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Indeed, one consequence of his ill-advised behavior is the realization that Crosby, Stills, and Nash and its larger conglomerate, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young are no more, the result of severed relationships between Crosby and the other principals. While Crosby clearly accepts blame for their demise, it’s also found him looking for other allies to help with his creativity. His exceptionally talented long-lost son James Raymond, his trusted partner Michael League of the band Snarky Puppy, and the musicians that make up his Sky Trails band have all done their part to fill the collaborative void left when CSN and CSNY decided to call it quits.

In truth, Crosby’s always been at his best when he was part of a band, whether it was the Byrds, CSN, or CPR. So while ostensively he’s on his own, For Free finds him sharing studio time with some formidable guests, including Michael McDonald, who adds backing vocals to the opening number “River Rise,” as well as Sarah Jarosz who aids his return to the music of Joni Mitchell courtesy of the title track. The tie to Mitchell can never be understated; After producing her first album, his affinity for her music remains fully fueled, having covered her classic “Amelia” on the Sky Trails album. Likewise, the 50 year age difference between Crosby and Jarosz is unapparent and insignificant. 

Notably, Crosby doesn’t play guitar on any of these offerings, sticking instead to singing. That said, his vocals clearly belie his age, ringing with resonance and resolve that evokes a more youthful clarity and conviction. That’s evident in songs such as “River Rise, “Ships in the Night” and “The Other Side of Midnight of Midnight” in particular, but it reverberates throughout the album overall. So too, several selections are especially telling in terms of ready reflection.

I’ve stepped across the dreaded green-line where self-inflicted wounds are slow to heal, Crosby sings on “Boxes,” one of the most moving songs on the album. I’ll have to find my way by touch and feel. 

Still, the offering that clearly has the most emphatic impact is the album’s final entry, “I Won’t Stay for Long.” Written by Raymond, supposedly inspired by Marcel Camus’s 1959 film Black Orpheus and a retelling of the Greek myth about Orpheus and his attempt to bring his wife Eurydice back to life, it finds Crosby putting himself in the role of one who’s reborn. (I’m facing the squall line/Of a thousand-year storm/I don’t know if I’m dying/Or about to be born.) Both evocative and effusive, it’s an ideal way to end the album

Clearly, Crosby’s content with where he still resides, an artist whose drive and determination remain as emphatic as ever. With For Free, David Crosby soars on his own satisfaction.

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