BMG [Release date 29.09.17]
Who would have thought that after a 20 year gap, septuagenarian David Crosby would return to cut three of his best albums in the last few years?
For all its Californian whimsy and introspection, ‘Sky Trails’ is a well crafted album, bursting with lyrical and musical ideas that gives him the perfect context for his undiminished talent.
‘Sky Trails’ shifts from big band outings to acoustic introspection and timeless harmonies. Crosby seems to have belatedly tapped into his own latent creativity, sparked by a willingness to collaborate with Michael McDonald, fellow vocalist Becca Stevens, bassist Mai Agan and most significantly his son James Raymond.
The latter’s massive musical contribution extends beyond production and keyboards to co-writing songs that help take the album up to another level.
David Crosby feels like a refreshed talent. ‘Sky Trails’ finds him in fine voice, on strong material that successfully searches for an equilibrium somewhere between his own reflective nature and the celebratory feel of the album’s unfettered creativity.
He applies descriptive imagery on ‘Sell Me A Diamond’, a song ostensibly about a search for peace. It’s built round the metaphoric concept of a ‘conflict free diamond’, on a track that features Steely Dan style harmonies, voiced over Greg Leisz ‘s pedal steel guitar, Raymond’s repeated piano riff and Jeff Pevar’s climactic solo.
Then there’s the biting anger of ‘Capitol’, which exposes corporate corruption in Congress, on a song that cleverly shifts the focus of its attention from political symbolism to a caustic analysis of elite that lives there; “They’ll ignore the constitution, And hide behind the scene, Anything to stay a part of the machine.”
The afore mentioned Steely Dan jazzy influence is an integral part of the album opener ‘She’s Got To Be Somewhere’. The stuttering piano chord levers us into a sophisticated big band arrangement counterweighted by his own poetic muse: “Hard as a desert flower, Leaning into the devil wind, The seeds might be forgotten, They just might scatter with her sins.”
‘Sky Trails’ is full of creative ideas spanning jazzy musical nuances and lyrical depth, as evidenced by the title track which is a notable highlight and could have been on one of his early solo albums. It’s a beautifully crafted duet with Becca Stevens, topped by some spine tingling harmonies and interwoven with Steve Tavaglione’s subtle soprano lines.
It’s a late career highlight that in all honesty you might never have thought possible, especially given the last few years of stasis with Crosby Stills & Nash.
He also impresses on the Michael McDonald co-write ‘Before Tomorrow Falls On Love’, and he’s unafraid to open up and be vulnerable on the heartfelt ‘Here It’s Almost Sunset’, a collaboration with bassist Mal Agan, which is predicated on her sumptuous bass lines.
There’s also a significant cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Amelia’, which is placed deep into the running order, almost as a barometer of the standard she sets for others. If this album originally aimed to emulate her song craft, Crosby does precisely that in tandem with his son James on the jazzy flamenco feel of ‘Curved Air’, on which his intricate phrasing perfectly matches the most complex arrangement on the album.
‘Sky Trails’ is a triumph of creativity over expectation. David Crosby has torn up the ageist rule book and the negative expectations that sometimes come with it. He’s buried his demons to concentrate on what he’s always been good at, namely penning great personal and social commentary songs, which he sings memorably.
The good stuff must run in the genes, because this album is shot through with the talent of his son James Raymond, who is the key catalyst to an album that will surely grace the ‘best of’ annual polls at the end of the year. ****½
Review by Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00
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