Monday 15 June 2015

"CPR" (David Crosby Band) (1998)

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"CPR" (1998)

Morrison/That House/One For Every Moment/At The Edge/Somebody Else's Town/Rusty and Blue/Somehow She Knew/Little Blind Fish/Yesterday's Child/It's All Coming Back To Me Now/Time Is The Final Currency

"People's lives fascinate me - all my life I've wanted to understand"

The glib review of this album is that it's the end result of one hell of a year (well, ever so slightly over one year) of extreme highs and lows, delayed a little bit by circumstances. I don't know if you can remember what you were up to in 1994 but I bet it wasn't full of half as many milestones as David Crosby's year. First the IRA checked on their records and discovered that Croz had the mother of all tax bills (one of many unfortunate side effects of a well publicised drug habit in the 1980s when spending had no limits - or paperwork). Secondly Croz had been poorly through most of the year and nearly died from liver failure in November, figuring something was seriously wrong when for the first time ever in his life he found himself unable to hit his instinctive harmonies. A transplant saved his life (eventually; a first donor had been found to be cancerous), but David was in a critical condition for the longest time, his treatment at least in part funded by family, fans and friends (Phil Collins and Robin Williams, gentlemen both, were particularly supportive). Then he discovered that his wife Jan was pregnant with his second child- after oh so many years of (mainly drug-related) years of trying to conceive (the pair became an item somewhere in the late 1970s, marrying in 1987). And then the long-lost first child, conceived when dad was all of twenty and struggling to make ends meet as a musician, got in touch to say 'hello', the pair setting up a first meeting in February 1995. Just to add to the drama, his son James had just found out that he too was about to be a father - making Crosby just about the only person to discover they were both a new father and a new grandfather mere weeks apart. Even for those of us who'd been following Crosby's 'cowboy movie' story with interest, this was one heck of a development in such a short space of time. Crosby's wry response? 'Anyone who thinks God doesn't have a sense of humour isn't watching'.

These events in such a short space of time would have broken lesser spirits, but one of Croz's greatest strengths has always been his resilience. Instead he pushed through across 1995 with an idea for a solution to all of his problems at once. CSN had once again found themselves parked in a siding after releasing the under-rated 'After The Storm' to poor sales and mixed reviews earlier in 1994 (ending their quarter-century contract with Atlantic into the bargain and effectively main Crosby a 'free agent' for the first time in decades), so that source of revenue was out. Staying low profile like Stills or Nash just wasn't possible however: with a new baby on the way and an old debt hanging over him, Crosby set to work with a new band. The group, a trio including guitarist Jeff Pevar and keyboard player James Raymond, were cleverly christened CPR, in homage to both the CSN family name in the use of their initials and the idea that the band had breathed 'new life' into Crosby who had fully expected not to see 1995 at all (CPR is, in technical jargon, Cardio-vascular Resuscitation -  what people do in bad movies and hospital dramas when someone has died and yet still needs to be saved by the end of the film). Jeff had been a friend for a long time, having appeared in CSN's band for a time, a guitarist of taste and subtlety whose playing would embellish the songs without getting in Crosby's way a la Stills or Young circa every single arena tour. As for James, he was a bright talented young kid, with a passion for the sort of jazzy chords and unusual turnings that were perfect for Crosby's unusually structured songs, had an excellent grasp of harmonies not unlike Croz himself - and who just happened to be the son David had given away for adoption all those years ago.

If any of you out there ever need to write an essay on the importance of genetics or nature versus nurture (hey, it's a long shot but you readers have to be an intelligent bunch to know of these albums, never mind get this far through a review of them so you never know) then the Crosby-Raymond story should be your first case study. James never knew who his father was - all he knew was that his mother had been forced to give him up for adoption after the dad ran off and she had no money to look after him herself. Thankfully James adored his adopted parents who were caring enough to support his creativity and his burgeoning talent for music (James had piano lessons at a young age, about the time his dad was re-writing the music rule-book with CSN). Raymond found he had a natural harmony voice and developed a fondness not for rock and roll so much as for jazz with a tendency to play unusual tunings and break the songwriting rules (sound familiar?) He'd even half-joked with his adoptive parents that at least one of his parents must be a famous musician, but had never seriously considered that he might be Crosby's son, despite later owning a couple of his dad's recordings alongside an impressive record collection. On discovering who his dad really was it suddenly all made sense - although even then James never considered that he'd be able to make music with him; instead he just wanted to talk and to tell David that he'd had a lovely upbringing, with none of the usual baggage that goes with adoption. When the pair met up their rapport was instant, with both men finding a staggering amount of bands in common in their collections. One of the first thing Crosby does with any musicians he admires is play with them (second only to smoking illicit substances with them in the dim and distant past) and the pair found a most extraordinary musical bond as well. Enjoying having a writing partner who understood his back story and using music as the perfect chance to bond with his son, Crosby set about doing what he did best - writing out his recent experiences to better make sense of them, ushering in a prolific period for a writer who always struggled to write with any regularity with a whole new jazzier sound to play around with. Whilst many fans assume the new jazz-age style of this CD is all Raymond, actually Crosby had been heading that way anyway ('Camera' and 'Street To Lean On' from 'After The Storm' had both been heading in that direction - and Crosby famously spent the whole of a 1966 Byrds tour playing a tape of John Coltrane endlessly, annoying both his fellow bandmates and passing police officers along the way!)

That's the part of the story that the few reviews of this oh so obscure CD half-cover, but there's another story across 'CPR' working in parallel and one that dates back almost as far as James' birth. The grief and guilt and relief on this album doesn't just date back to the changes of 1994; instead Crosby seems to have used his recent near-death experience to think about those he's lost down the years, the way that their legacies have been treated since they were left behind and his own fears about what he almost left behind. If there's a theme to this album it's about making the most of your time, because it really can be very very short. The album's first song, the first Crosby-Raymond collaboration, is written for Jim Morrison and Crosby's objections to the Oliver Stone film about The Doors that tried so hard to paint Morrison's death as inevitable and beautiful. 'He was lost and I don't think he wanted it that way' is Crosby's summary of his one-time rival, wishing that instead of admiring him people had been out to help him. 'Somehow She Knew' cuts even closer to home, an AA-style admittance that all those 'lost' years had been because Crosby was still in denial over losing his girlfriend Christine Hinton in a car crash in 1971 (most of Crosby's classic first solo record 'If Only I Could Remember My Name' is for her) and about how we can never really get over the death of someone close to us - how the power of the feelings can be distracted but always lurk, barely hidden, below the surface, ready to be set off at a moment's notice. Other songs touch on the theme of Crosby's own mortality. 'That House' is loosely based on a nightmare Crosby had long had - which had even appeared in his 1988 autobiography 'Long Time Comin' - about being trapped in a house full of riches and never making his way out in time. Even before this album Crosby realised that his sub-conscious was really warning him not to waste time, that there were too many things to do that he might never get a chance to do. 'It's All Coming Back To Me Now' is a rare history-song about Crosby's career to date, a witty riposte to the earlier haze of 'If Only I Could Remember My Name' with a now-clean and sober Crosby fully aware of life and it's purpose (whilst the song is a new one, the title had been around for a while - it's the title of a live album  fact). 'At The Edge' reflects on how close Crosby came to losing everything he cared for and passing on his wisdom to his fans as best he can in case they ever need to remember it on their death-beds. 'Time Is The Final Currency' adds a new slant to all this: that in the end it doesn't matter how rich or powerful or popular you are, the only currency that will really matter when you're dying is the time you no longer have.

We are, of course, used to hearing Crosby sing about himself: fans have long come to treasure the occasional overwhelmingly autobiographical piece of music which are often the best thing on the album ('Where Will I Be? > Page 43' from 'Graham Nash, David Crosby', 'Carry Me' from 'Wind On The Water', 'I'd Swear There Was Somebody There' from 'If Only I Could Remember My Name' which doesn't even needs words to pass on its grief and guilt). But even by those standards CPR is a special record, one that features even more of the 'real' Crosby than ever before. It's no surprise that so many songs from this album found their way to the Crosby box set 'Voyage' - if this album isn't necessarily the best Crosby made away from CSN, then it is certainly amongst the most important and revelatory. Along with those familiar-yet-weirdly-different harmonies (the opening of James' haunting 'Yesterday's Child' - his own moving confessional Crosby-style song - is almost 'evil' CSN, the usual blend pulling the song downwards to the depths of hell rather than soaring up to heaven as per usual) it all sounds so different this time; more vital, more important, even more crucial than what Crosby usually has to tell us. The closest thing we'd ever had before this album was 'Delta' but even that comparison isn't quite right; that gorgeous ballad was Crosby's sub-conscious admitting that he'd lost his way and might never find it again; this time the album is upfront, all too aware at the wrong paths taken in the past and adamant that we should learn from what Crosby's just experienced as much as he clearly has. Just a few years ago Crosby was coasting, with the 'A Thousand Roads' covers album of 1993 the sound of a man who has nothing to say but is having too good a time to stop; by contrast this is an album that can't waste a single precious second. As a result there's very little filler even by Crosby standards, the best CSN-related release outside the box set since 'Daylight Again' in 1982 or - in terms of Crosby's contributions - 'CSN' from 1977. However 'CPR' is even more powerful than either of those records, a rich if harrowing emotional experience that will haunt you

So why have you most likely never heard of it? *Sigh*, the answer, not for the last time, is money. Given the context is seems an especial shame that a release this important and which Crosby clearly wanted to spread loud and fast ended up being all but forgotten. Without the clout of Atlantic all of CSN found it hard to find new contracts and all signed with smaller, more independent labels to get their music out (Stills had already signed to Crosby's old friend Chris Hillman's label Gold; Hill Records in 1991; Nash will sign with Artemis in 2002). Crosby, though, ended up on a label smaller than either of his colleagues with Sampson Records - the choice is an apt one given that 'almost cut my hair/hair is strength' connection, but it's still a low blow for an artist who at one stage was a given as one of rock and roll's most erudite and un-missably creative acts. To this day 'CPR', it's slightly lesser sequel 'Just Like Gravity' and two rather good live CPR sets are only available in Europe as pricey American imports, which given the ready availableness in our countries of, say, The Spice Girls, is 'the biggest crisis since the Abdication' (to quote from a rather daft Daily Mail headline everyone is taking the mickey out of the week I'm writing this; incidentally why don't the Daily Fail think World War Two was such a minor deal?) Even your humble scribe, a committed Crosby-phile who'll go through hell or high water to get his music (or at any rate sit through 'Whistling Down The Wire'), had to wait an awful long time without even seeing this album anywhere, never mind paying over the odds for it. While fans can, thankfully, hear many of the album's better songs on the 'Voyage' set this situation clearly can't go on; we demand a re-release as soon as possible because, well, time is the final currency you know and life is too short to not hear life lessons made with as much power and soul as here.

CSN fans also need to own this album because it contains two much older songs which pre-date the CPR concept. 'Rusty and Blue' is a beautiful song, an oh-so Crosby tale of trying to figure out what life is all about and being endlessly fascinated by how other people live their lives. The song had first appeared as early as 1994 and should by rights have appeared on 'After The Storm' although it's unusual jazz-style and lengthy solo-ing do have much more in common with this album (even so, it first appeared on the much-delayed live set 'It's All Coming Back To Me Now'). The other 'old' song dates back even further: 'Little Blind Fish' is the legendary outtake recorded by CSNY for 'Human Highway' (one of the few they got close to finishing before splitting up again) and for years so obscure that fans weren't even sure which of the quartet wrote it (as each of the four sing lines). We should have guessed from the quirky tunings and off-beat humour it was one of Crosby's, with metaphors of man as all sorts of lost animals, turned from a rocker into a jazz song thanks to some Jeff Pevar fine turning.

Elsewhere, notice how Crosby runs with the theme that dominated his set of songs for 'After The Storm' - a camera and its relationship to memory. David's dad Floyd was a cinematographer by trade and a good one too - he even got an award for his work on 1931 film 'Tabu'. Crosby grew up with big named from Hollywood turning up unannounced at his family house, especially those who worked behind the scenes, and for a time considered becoming an actor himself before his music took off. Two of these songs are directly related to the power of film: 'Morrison' shows how the technology can distort and disrupt, turning scared and lonely young men into heroes and poets (while Crosby's dislike of Morrison can and does come over in interviews, it's certainly fair to say that the Doors leader was never quite as self-confident and full of life as the Doors film and almost every documentary since his death in 1970 paints him out to be; Crosby's take on him as a 'mushroom' figure growing in the 'darker' side of life is much closer to the real Jim than the partying, social idolised creature of the film). And 'Somehow She Knew' shows how it can have the power to say the unsayable. Another song a tad older than the rest here, Crosby had been playing it with CSN where fans had come to know it as 'The Fisher King Song' in honour of the film that inspired it. Crosby, a great friend of the much missed Robin Williams, was eager to see the film premiere on TV simply because his pal was in it and he hadn't got a chance to see it at the cinema. A kind of 'King Midas In Reverse' for the movie world, it re-tells the Arthurian legend of the Fisher King who was put in charge of the holy grail but becomes so devoted to his task his health fails and he ends up dying and too impotent to pass on the role to any offspring. The film updates the story to a radio DJ played by Jeff Bridges who is horrified when a harmless comment on air sparks a mass murder and decides to help a homeless man played by Robin Williams on his own quest to find the holy grail through guilt that the man's wife had died in the same incident. The line that got Crosby comes right near the end, when Williams finds the grail and asks Bridges 'Is it alright now? Am I allowed to miss her?', revealing that the quest was really a cover up all along (the film was sad anyway but it's unbearably poignant now given the sad manner of William's own death). Scaring himself with how hard he was crying and his emotional connection with the film and not even quite sure why, Crosby was nursed back to full stability by his ever patient wife Jan, the 'someone' who 'knew'. I have to say I saw this film long before I ever heard the song and it never got me quite the same way (given the talent on offer - Terry Gilliam, the most talented Monty Python whose George Harrison-made 'Time Bandits' is one of the greatest film ever, wrote it - I was hoping for better), even with similar circumstances to Crosby's, but then I didn't have a close friend playing one of the lead roles and anyway that doesn't matter; what does matter is Crosby's emotional response and the letter he wrote off to Williams soon after telling him how powerful the work had been for him (if you're interested, there's a great audio clip on Youtube of Williams attempting to interview Crosby but forever interrupting himself, who can also been persuaded to play one of the pirates going 'arrrh'  a lot in another Williams' film, 'Hook').

Overall, then, 'CPR' is a great and most under-rated record, if perhaps not in the ways that CSN will naturally assume. There's only one rock song here to break up the mood, the performances tend to be sparse and a bit the samey (quite unlike Crosby's usual eclectic style) and the jazz piano chords and folk guitar tunings won't be to everybody's tastes. This is one of those Crosby albums where the melodies don't always do justice to the lyrics (which is odd as most recently he's had quite the different problem on albums such as 'Live It Up' 'A Thousand Roads' and 'After The Storm'); some reviewers put the blame on James Raymond but his own pair of songs are as melodic as any on the album so I doubt it's quite that simple. Poor James has a lot to do on this album, filling in both the instrumental sound and most of the harmonies (Jeff does sing a little, but not much): for the most part he does so admirably, more than mixing it with musicians either old enough to be his dad or who really is his dad; even so the harmonies are only at 95% of the lushness and perfection we come to associate with Crosby recordings (the pair are now at about 98% I'd say after an extra twenty odd years of working together). Jeff's guitar work too is often only here to add colour rather than fully embellish the sound - too often he's the third wheel in the band's sound, hidden by what his colleagues are up to and fitting bits in when he can (he's also no Stills when it comes to solo-ing or even a McGuinn, but then if you will work with the best people possible for three decades anyone is going to sound like a slight come-down). A few of the songs, James' 'One For Every Moment' and the joint 'Morrison' and 'Somebody Else' Town' aren't quite up to the staggeringly high standard of the other songs here, although that shows just how good the others are (and eight great songs out of eleven is still easily the best odds of any CSN-related release in years). 'CPR' isn't quite perfect then - and in many ways it needs to be, given that it cost about £20 to buy in the UK the last time I tried (it's currently £22 brand new on Amazon guys, sorry about that - I recommend you buy up the £13 secondhand copy quick, although do read the small print as it doesn't seem to be in very good condition I'm afraid!)

However 'CPR' is perfect in all the ways that matter: Crosby has rarely sung with such passion and you can hear his delight at finding something new to do after so many years of singing. His lyrics have rarely been as powerful - each one of his sets of words for this album sounds like a powerful, big statement - though the low-key rootsy music prevents this album sounding too big for its boots. James' intelligent yet warm piano playing is perfect for the new surroundings. The chance to hear so many songs CSN fans never thought we'd get to hear - and the fact that they're better than we ever dared hope - is a delight. The sheer bravery of these songs (which sound hard to write and even harder to live) that tap into the howling pain of fears and half-drowned memories is enough to applaud anyway even if they hadn't turned out as emotionally involving for the listener as they are. Unlike the past five Crosby releases in a row there's no horrid contemporary production set to forever imprison this record at the date of release; instead it's a timeless sound for an album on timeless themes that will still be important centuries and millennia from now (although fish may well have died out by then, blind or not, and our successors may well be clueless about The Doors film and assume Crosby is singing about the supermarket chain). Everything about this album has been thoughtfully made and tastefully created - even the cover is spot on (a centaur - half-beast, half-man who straddles the worlds of normality and terror - casually aims some arrows up at the sky, caring not where they land; 'arrows' are of course another key Crosby theme surprisingly not used on this album although the 'Live It Up' track 'Arrows' have them as a metaphor for the pain life shoots at you which only makes you stronger; this album's 'Time Is The Final Currency' also uses the metaphor of the tension between life and death being a 'hard-bent bow'). 'CPR' is a terrific album even by Crosby standards and it's such a shame that the band were no more after just one more ever-so-nearly-as-good album (though thankfully Raymond will be on board for the 'Crosby*Nash' record and will all but mastermind the 2014 album 'Croz').

'Morrison' is an apt choice, in the sense that it was the first song David and James wrote together. However it's an odd song for Crosby, who doesn't usually comment on his peers in such terms as this. Although his anger has quietened down by the time he came to perform the song, which is treated with the same laidback feel of the rest of the album, it was clearly originally quite an angry song ('I have seen the movie and it wasn't like that! He was lost and lonely, blind as a bat!') Whilst Jim Morrison was clearly not the party animal portrayed in the Oliver Stone film and Crosby's fear of 'the myth' coming to over-write the 'man' is a good theme for a song, you can't help but feel that there's a bit of atypical inverse snobbery about this song. Crosby and his ilk represents the sunshine, hippie ideals and hope - there's a danger that this lyric is looking down on Morrison simply because he represented the opposite, the dark and a world-weary pessimism that things were never going to get better. The song works best when Crosby sings about Morrison being 'too deaf to hear his own song' and believe in his own abilities and his opening admission that 'he was lost - and I don't think he wanted it that way' (in the film Jim does an awful lot of saving other people; in reality he struggled to save himself for as long as he did judging by most accounts). However the metaphor of Morrison as a 'gull blown inland on a stormy day' isn't really 'right' either (surely if Morrison was a bird he was a peacock) and the images of him 'lost in round one, spitting out pieces of his teeth' and 'lost in a Paris graveyard carrying his own wreath' do him as much of a disservice as the film (Morrison was clearly a self-destructive figure - you'd have thought that nine-lives Crosby would have identified with that aspect of him at least). All that said, this song at least started off with the right idea and the decision to make this a 'Crosby' sounding song rather than a poor Doors cover is a good one; this is after all about perception and has to be from the narrator's point of view. Raymond's jazzy melody is very different to Ray Manzarek's style on the Doors originals and very ear-catching, especially the very Nash-style singalong chorus.

'That House', however, is exceptional. Throughout the record there's the feeling that Crosby is getting things that have haunted him for a long time off his chest and 'That House' sounds like a distillation of all those darker times. As we've seen, the song was partly about an oft-recurring nightmare, but in another sense it's a sadder, darker re-write of Nash's 'House Of Broken Dreams'. The main character in the song starts out crying that it 'wasn't fair' although we never find out what isn't, the song turning from a weepie ballad via Pevar's best guitar on the album into an epic about struggle as the narrator leaves his 'prison cell' of a bedroom ('The sound leads to the kitchen, kitchen leads to the door). The song switches from first person to third person throughout as if Crosby can't even bear to believe that the sobbing figure in the song is him. While it's entirely possible the song dates from some dark day in Crosby's own life we don't know about (he had a particularly unhappy time in his teens he doesn't often talk about), it sounds more to me as if this song is written out of empathy with those who struggle to cope with life sometimes. There are shades of Brian Wilson in the lines about retreating inside yourself and a world of possibilities shrinking back to just one tiny room, although the ending is very Crosby, forcing himself through the impossible to get outside and back into the world again (turning 'one foot down in front of the other!' into the single hardest fought Crosby sentence since 'Where Will I Be?') So many Crosby songs are filled with 'sound' - usually music but quite often just the sound of living going on, but this track is clever for the way it starts off by conjuring up such eerie silence; in Crosby's world communication is the key to overcoming every problem both personal and universal, but in this song there isn't anything at the start except the brooding silence between two people who clearly don't love each other anymore. CPR at their best on this track too - the sudden swell of grief needs to be handled telepathically, little bit by little bit but both Pevar and Raymond 'get' this song and offer Crosby what he's looking for. The harmonies too are excellent, peaking at the sudden unexpected key change partway through (which could be so cheesy and Eurovision if handled wrong, but here simply increases the tension one more unbearable notch). An excellent start to the new band.

'One For Every Moment' is James' first solo song and it sounds like a poppier version of his dad's more usual jazzy tunings (its a singalong 'Deja Vu' without the mystery, this track). Given that James is a new found composer it's an impressive song all round and you can almost hear his dad's pride shine through as he tries to keep pace though a complex set of harmonic changes (getting a taste of his own medicine for what he used to put Stills and Nash through). Raymond's songs tend to be love songs and this early piece is no exception although it's a little more opaque and mystical than his later lyrics. Two lovers seem to be chasing each other without knowing it, him spying her running across 'barren land' before the wind 'tells her' she is loved and when the pair finally meet they spend the night underneath the stars 'one for every moment he would love her'. Though there's nothing concrete about this song at all (the words are as mutable as the slippery chord structure) there still manages to be something of a permanent feel about this song, with the sense that isn't just a crush built a lifelong romance that nature always intended. I could have done without the very 80s honking saxophone part (which is very 'Arrows', the closest song to this in the Crosby catalogue) but otherwise the performance is again excellent, a breathless rush of excitement suddenly peaking in some very CSN harmony holds in the chorus.

'At The Edge' is another majestic song, one that Crosby poured a lot of emotional investment in and is surely about his near-death experience. It's a song about the small grasp that human's have to life ('I wonder each day if I'm blowing away'), and how 'lucky' he feels. However the song is deeper than mere physical mortality - he was helped not just by a new liver but by the 'hand' of kindness, saving him from a 'very great fall'. The song is also his response to the sheer outpouring of grief and offers of support he discovered in his illness and that all his fears that he would fade away unloved and abandoned can be brushed aside now that he's had a 'dress rehearsal' for the 'real thing'. 'The darkness won't get you, your family won't go' he sings sadly yet joyously, realising that even at his lowest ebb there was reason to stay optimistic. The last verse is particularly strong, perhaps reflecyting all the thoughts whirling round Crosby's head on the operating theatre, the closest Crosby has ever come to answering his own youthful question 'what's happening?!?!?' back in the Byrds days and trying to understand what the purpose of life is. 'It's lie and it's dying, it's beginning and ends' he sighs, 'It's what did you do with the life they gave you?' Figuring that the whole point of life is to live it while leaving it better than you found it for other people, he adds 'it's were you that honest? Did you make amends? And how have you treated your friends?' While the words are credited to Crosby alone, the music is credited to all of CPR and is one of the best melodies on the album, sad and sorrowful yet with a resilient piano lick that keeps on coming back for more. The scat singing harmonies in the middle (on a very Crosby 'ba-bah!' wordless chant last heard on 'dancer' in 1976) are particularly lovely, Crosby and son suddenly taking off with a telepathic round of 'aaahs' that are truly beautiful. The result is one of the best Crosby songs in years another album highlight.

'Somebody Else's Town' is perhaps the weakest song on the album, without the individuality or originality of the best of the album and a 'funk strut' that seems out of place on such a humble, understated album. Still even this song doesn't fall that far: the lyric, about how there's more to be glad about in life than sad is very Crosby ('Blood is thicker than water, friendship is stronger than fear') has its moments, even if the story gets lost somewhere around verse two when James' narrator goes out for a long walk. Clearly suffering, he growls to himself not to feel so sad because he's been through worse down the years ('I'm no fucking kid!' he snarls, 'This is not my first war!') as he walks and walks, stamping out his anger and his depression at a turn of events in his life we never get to hear about. By the end calm is restored - he uses the hotel he's just checked into to call home and 'hear that soft sleepy voice' telling him that he's forgiven/they're sorry while he 'keeps them awake by the sound of my talking'. Another disaster has been averted, but oddly the song doesn't have the musical resolution we've been looking for; instead it just carries on as angry and stompy and as uncharacteristically atonal as anything Crosby has ever been involved with to date. James' lead vocal is excellent throughout but there's less call for harmonies here and adding the others to the mix dilutes the 'rawness' of the song a little too much to sock the message home. Still, if even the album low point can be this good you know that an album is very special indeed.

'Rusty and Blue' sounds as if it was always born for this album - it has the same haunting philosophical words, the same atonal jazz chords always taking the melody somewhere new and the till-now unusual Crosby trait of slowly building instead of switching gears mid-way through. 'Rusty and Blue' was, however, already a popular live Crosby song long before CPR were born, another instalment in his attempt to 'understand' what makes human beings tick. The lyrics are in the 'surreal' Crosby bracket (alongside 'Naked In The Rain' and 'Samuari') but make more sense than some, starting with the opening declaration 'how can I sweep these words into a cluster?' as if Crosby is struggling to form the images in his head into words. Visited by a man with 'the moon in his eyes' and a 'smiling woman who defeats fear with her eyes' ask him for advice but Crosby doesn't feel in a position to offer advice. The 'pillar' society has put him on 'is melting like ice' and even with all his living, even with the many years and borrowed lives he's had down the years he still doesn't feel as if he understand life anymore than when he started. All he has to show for his years of living is a collection of 'leaves and feathers' from his old lives discarded on the floor. However this wouldn't be a Crosby song without some good advice and a note of hope offered somewhere so Crosby digs deep for a 'sea shell or two' to bring up to the surface, although there's the hint that these are mere nuggets from his life's tales and that even these are buried, submerged by murky waters. After an epic instrumental - in which in a neat mirror of the lyrics James Raymond gets gradually further and further away from the starting point before the song finally finds it's way back home again - Crosby goes on to sing about how the good and bad are part of him and every human being. Adding that 'lives almost never run parallel' he sings about how all of our past living follows behind us 'like floorboards, all grained and worn', under our feet every time we do anything in our ordinary lives. At a full seven-and-a-half minutes this is one of the epics of the album and it's surreal, hazy, overtly jazzy quality won't be to the taste of every fan (Nash is clearly one of them though - his own equally strong 'Liar's Nightmare' from four years later is very similar to the feel of this song) but if you're able to follow Crosby down this road then this is a very satisfying song with some very Crosby imagery and a very beautiful tune, always shifting and always un-knowable.

'Somehow She Knew' is the other long song on the album - strange the two longest songs should be next to each other - but this song 'belongs' here, at the 'heart' of the album. Crosby starts the song by coming to after sobbing his heart out watching 'The Fisher King' and isn't quite sure what's just happened to him. Even now, in the comforting arms of his wife, he can see the 'shadow' that still haunts him so badly, 'the thing he was afraid would find him and wash him away in the tide', with the next wave of emotion and grief. All these years of mourning for his lost love of 27 years earlier (though Crosby wrote the song a little earlier than it appeared on album) and believing that the secret had kept safe locked up where it couldn't get him and still it found him in the end, triggered by one line in a film. Crosby relates the feeling to a 'wolf in a trap who chews off his own leg' - blocking out the grief and not facing up to it is a human coping mechanism, but it comes with a price of 'lying to myself' and fooling those around you into thinking that you're OK. Robin Williams was the 'man in the movie' who said 'is it alright if I miss her tonight?' (well, the actual line from the film is 'Is it alright? Can I miss her now?), the 'am' who 'felt just like me'. However, sad as this song is, haunting as both words and melody are and spine-chilling as the eerie harmonies are, this is not altogether a sad song. The narrator isn't alone and he's chosen his love ones carefully - he ends with admiration for his wife Jan as 'somehow she knew why I was crying', even though Crosby's conscious mind hadn't quite worked out yet just why he was creased up in tears. Crosby adds that 'a path she gently traced', pulling Crosby back from the point where he felt he couldn't function (he admitted in concert that he scared himself by how intense the feeling was) to the point where his grief and suffering could be properly cared for and missed. Opening with a flurry of notes that sound like a brain gone into hyperdrive before Crosby counts himself in, 'Somehow She Knew' is beautifully handled by all concerned, with one of David's greatest vocals in years (caught somewhere between the emotion of the moment and an icy-cold detachment that stops him from going over the top). Despite being a full seven minutes this song doesn't overstay its welcome for a second, the drama of the proceedings keeping the listener on the edge of their seat throughout as the song makes one eerie harmonic shift after another in a desperate search for dry land. Had 'CPR' only contained this one song it would still be a classic for many fans, with a song that's actually harmonically not that far removed from 'I'd Swear There Was Somebody There', Crosby's original wordless song of grief for Christine in 1971.
'Little Blind Fish' sounds a little out of place after two such intense songs, a bluesy re-write of what was originally more of a soul song from 1974. While I miss the lines that have been cut to make this once so glossy fish a more streamlined, functional creature ('Hold on it's coming, hold on boy...' 'Whose at the back door sitting at the front step? Whose at the wheel trying to bring the ship in? Whose in the cornfield looking like a scarecrow? Whose in the way on the broad highway?' The first and second verses were originally joined too with some linking material added to pad them out) this is still an excellent lyric and again very Crosby in its metaphors and quest for answers. The lyrics again reflect in Crosby's quest for the answers of life, picturing humans as 'blind' in a massive river (or later a 'massive box' or a bird up a 'massive tree') that they don't have the brains to comprehend. Pevar's slinky acoustic guitar riff, new for this version, is perhaps his best contribution to CPR of them all, a snaky slinky blues part that really suits the song and the slippery fish's journey into the unknown. The theme that mankind is in the middle of something he's too thick to understand - thus being like the 'dumb' animals he so scorns, while at the same time being a lot smaller than nature - is a very fitting Crosby lyric and one I'm surprised he hadn't returned to earlier. Crosby may have been reminded of the song after so long by the lines about the fox 'biting his own leg in a rage', so close to the metaphor of a wolf he used in 'Somehow She Knew', although ;like colleague Neil Young Crosby has never been averse to reviving old material.

'Yesterday's Child' is James' greatest moment on the album. While the music is credited to CPR as a whole, the lyric is James' alone and it's another case for how strong our genetics are as it's very like a song his dad would write. Modern man is arrogant, thinking that evolution has all been leading up to this moment and that he's at a peak. The narrator isn't so sure - he'd rather have been 'brought up by wolves' in centuries gone by and 'singing at the moon with my clan'. Far from being superstitious backwards peasants, James clearly sees mankind from centuries before as spiritual and at one with nature that modern mankind has forgotten. Another eerie chord sequence, like CSN in negative stalking the song ready to pounce instead of looking for an excuse to float away on a cloud, fits the lyric about mankind's arrogance becoming his undoing and finding that the world belongs to 'yesterday's child' after all (because it won't be around for 'tomorrow's man'). The result is another thoughtful song that's well crafted and beautifully performed, with an excellent Pevar solo in the middle, which only really loses out on the middle eight near the end (which after so much good work goes back to the lazy songwriter talk of 'dreams' and how 'dreaming makes light').

Coming oddly late on in the album is the record's only rock song 'It's All Coming Back To Me Now'. Though timid compared to the arrangement the band later played live, this slice of autobiography is nicely handled with Pevar clearly much more at home on a howling blues-rock hybrid and James manages to capture the 'aggrieved organ feel' of 'Long Time Gone' nicely. The lyric is very Crosby again, with several mentions of fan favourites along the way as he sings about his 'lost years' and assuming he would never find his way out of the darkness that once consumed his life ('Couldn't read my compass!' 'Life sometimes leaves me laughing!' Even the title sounds like a sequel to 'If Only I Could Remember My Name'). Recording that an 'oncoming train' of impending disaster (which could be in 1984 or 1994) made him 'snap into focus', Crosby throws every metaphor he can at this song to conjure up just how desperate he was feeling in the face of an addiction that couldn't be stopped ('A deer in the headlights' 'Like a pilot in a plane when it stalls'). Though clearly delivered as the 'joker' on the album and with a rare moment of hippie sunshine (as the song's chorus goes into harmony free-flow and soars skywards, being as impossible to ignore as the similar life-affirming part at the end of 'Country Girl') this is another serious autobiographical song about dark times which another, lesser artist would have turned into a sad ballad. Only a slightly lethargic performance lets the song down a little (it does sound much better live), although even this has its moments - the key change in the middle eight where Pevar turns his guitar note into the screech of a train's brakes is particularly on the money.

Against all odds, this fine album may yet have saved the best for last with a final moving song written about death or at least about coming back from the brink of death. 'Time Is The Final Currency' is one of the most powerful songs Crosby has ever written, about how  when you are dying time is more precious than anything, 'not money not power'. 'The time will come when you will give anything for one more hour' he warns us, adding that when death arrives so much of life seems petty and that 'there are no secrets' because you re-live so much of your life on your death-bed. Crosby no longer feels 'human' but more a 'spark of life' ready to join the great collection of sparks in the sky and feels the 'pressure' of a bow about to shoot him up to the sky. The song slowly falls back on the half-whispered line 'Suddenly you realise that this time it's alrightttttttt' letting the song pause on the word as if the fear is fading away. Later verses compare the threat of death with the glory of life, as Crosby 'watches the greatest miracle take three quarters of a year' - he's never seen one of his children growing before (James was of course given up for adoption, two more children were born to different girlfriends and Crosby also became a sperm donor for Melissa Etheridge). The waiting for birth seems very much like waiting for death, with the same 'hard bent bow' of tension linking the two worlds and the same verse is re-used, as 'another one is sent up to the sky and you realise that this time it's alrighttttttt'. A gorgeous contrast between birth and death written out of Crosby's unique circumstances of becoming a father at the point when he assumed he was going to die, this is another gorgeous Crosby ballad full of such wonder and ideas that you have think that 'Rusty and Blue' got it wrong and that Crosby really does know what is going on in life after all. A final fine performance from CPR, who are delicate and subtle throughout, is the perfect send-off to the album, although in keeping with the song the major colossal change you half-expect throughout the song never arrives, the song instead floating away on a hazy cloud.

Overall, then, 'CPR' is a major addition to the Crosby canon. While famous for pulling no punches this record is remarkable for how much it reveals about a songwriter we all thought we knew pretty well anyway and with so much going on in his life to inspire him is the start f a third wonderful burst of creativity that will last for the rest of the decade. While I'd have love to have heard what CSN might have done with this material (the best of this album and Graham's 'Songs For Survivors' would have made for a truly sublime LP), CPR are the right band for the material, teasing out a sound that's both as graphic and as powerful as the material whilst playing with a softer, jazzier tone than Crosby's day-band that suits the material nicely. Sadly low sales and the need to return to the CSNY family will kill off CPR's career before it properly began and a second, comparatively rushed album will be a tough ask to fill even for a newly invigorated Crosby. For now, though, CPR is the best idea Crosby's had in ever such a long while and enable him to make his best album in years, even decades. The arrows shot by CPR might not have all found their targets, as per the centaur on the cover, but so many of them do that it seems churlish to talk about the few that miss. Let's hope that this record and the next get re-issued soon: more fans need to know this material which is crucial to our understanding of one of the greatest songwriters of our times. 

A Now Complete List Of CSN/Y and Solo Articles Available To Read At Alan’s Album Archives:

'Crosby, Stills and Nash' (1969)

'Deja Vu' (CSNY) (1970)

‘Stephen Stills’ (1970)

'If Only I Could Remember My Name' (Crosby) (1971)

'Songs For Beginners' (Nash) (1971)

'Stephen Stills II' (1971)
‘Graham Nash, David Crosby’ (1972)

'Stephen Stills-Manassas'  (1972)

'Wild Tales' (Nash) (1973)
'Down The Road' (Stephen Stills/Manassas) (1973)

'Stills' (1975)

'Wind On The Water' (Crosby-Nash) (1975)
'Illegal Stills' (Stills) (1976)
'Whistling Down The Wire' (Crosby-Nash) (1976)

'Long May You Run' (Stills-Young) (1976)

'CSN' (1977)
'Thoroughfare Gap' (Stills) (1978)
'Earth and Sky' (Nash) (1980)

'Daylight Again' (CSN) (1982)
'Right By You' (Stills) (1984)
'Innocent Eyes' (Nash) (1986)
'American Dream' (CSNY) (1988)

'Oh Yes I Can!' (Crosby) (1989)

'Live It Up!' (CSN)  (1989)

'Stephen Stills Alone' (1991)

'CPR' (Crosby Band) (1998)

‘So Like Gravity (CPR, 2001)

‘Songs For Survivors’ (2002)

'Deja Vu Live' (CD) (2008)

'Deja Vu Live' (DVD) (2008)

'Reflections' (Graham Nash Box Set) (2009)

'Demos' (CSN) (2009)

'Manassas: Pieces' (2010)

‘Carry On’ (Stephen Stills Box Set) (2013)

'Croz' (Crosby) (2014)
'CSNY 74' (Recorded 1974 Released 2014)

'This Path Tonight' (Nash) (2016)

‘Here If You Listen’ (Crosby)

The Best Unreleased CSNY Recordings
Surviving TV Appearances (1969-2009)
Non-Album Recordings (1962-2009)
Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part One (1964-1980)
Live/Compilations/Rarities Albums Part Two (1982-2012)
Essay: The Superest Of Super Groups?
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions


  1. Great assessment, as usual. However, it would have been the IRS that checked Crosby's tax records, not the IRA.