Monday, 12 December 2016
David Crosby "Lighthouse" (2016)
David Crosby "Lighthouse" (2016)
Things We Do For Love/The Us Below/Drive Out To The Desert/Look In Their Eyes/Somebody Other Than You/The City/Paint You A Picture/What Makes It So/By The Light Of The Common Day
'Leave a light on, all night long...'
For all their feuding across 2016, Crosby and Nash have released spookily similar solo albums this year. Graham's 'This Path Tonight' was a slow, brooding, mainly acoustic album about coming out of darkness that's mainly about love and taking chances, written with the help of a hip young collaborator half Graham's age. Crosby's 'Lighthouse' is a slow, brooding, almost entirely acoustic album about having found light and the need not to take any chances any more, written with a hip young collaborator in Snarky Puppy's Michael League that's half David's age. Graham's album comes with a cover where a dark path leading into the light; David's comes with the beacon of hope in full bloom. You can tell the differences straight away, although they're really not that great and the songs sound at first hearing near enough identical with lots of zen, hope and karma in the imagery. There is a difference though and it's a big one that finds the two former friends at very different stages in their life: Nash is crossing his fingers and hoping for a better future with a new girl after decades of marriage where he admits now he felt trapped; Crosby is basking in the warm glow of three decades of marriage to his wife Jan and is enjoying a stability he's never ever found in his turbulent life before. Nash is walking down a path and hoping he'll find light love at the end of it; Crosby is already there and it shines like a beacon, with the storm receding into the background. It's an odd switch-around for CSNY's most stable member and their former loose cannon to find themselves in. While former Crosby albums, like Nash's new one, promote adventure promise and doing something new, David has now caught up with Graham's old ones and now promotes family life, with two cats in the yard and life used to be so hard but everything is easy because of wife Jan and son Django.
This is, believe it or not, new ground. While love is central to many records and always will be, it's never really been central to Crosby's before now. In time gone by David promoted the idea of 'triads', of open relationships between multiple partners and openly enjoyed his promiscuous ways even while dedicated to each partner in turn. Even after Croz did meet his partner Jan in the mid-1970s his drug intake stymied his creativity to the point where we never really got a full album of love songs from him. The records made after his time in prison in the mid-1980s tended to be songs reaching out to other people in dark places, to help them find their 'compass' and reflect on the shock that, after assuming for years that he was doomed to die young, Crosby was still here and kicking. Then, of course, there were so many crooked politicians to write about (oddly, for such a political band, neither Crosby nor Nash have chosen to take Donald Trump to task despite his rise this year; maybe it's coming on Crosby's sequel due early next year?) Now, at 75, Crosby seems to have realised that he's here for good and his marriage probably is as well after 37 years and he can grow to rely on those around him and celebrate them in song. No one would ever have picked out the younger Croz as a natural family man but he's grown into the part well and made it his own. There are some truly gorgeous blissful moments on 'Lighthouse' that don't go anywhere new or embed them into your skull with their honesty and autobiography anymore or with the invention and daring the way the songs on 'If Only I Could Remember My Name' and past classics did, but then 'Lighthouse' isn't really that kind of an album. It's content instead just to be, to sit there in the 'mood' across a full track, basking in the glow of a particular chord or lyric phrase, taking the time to take in the sights, smell the roses and count it's blessings. Some songs, such as album highlight 'The Things We Do For Love', are profound in their stillness, going everywhere and taking in everything without really saying much at all; 'Paint You A Picture' tries to capture the current moment of happiness in time forever; actually the only song that doesn't suit this vibe is the one track that finds Crosby going outside the family home and exploring 'The City', a dark and dangerous place, though even this song is full of love and expression (and my guess is that rather than being a generic everywoman character this city girl, 'dangerous by night', might be actress Drew Barrymore who for a time lived with the Crosbys in the 1990s when she was thirteen during her own time searching for roots and stability).
Being Crosby's most homely album lyrically, it makes sense that 'Lighthouse' has an acoustic vibe we've never really had across a full Crosby album before. Even though the majority of it features guitar rather than piano the songwriter it sounds most like is Joni Mitchell - Crosby's discovery and one-time girlfriend who spent so many of her songs observing and commenting; usually Crosby is more of a doer and thinker, but here the songs aren't about him but the life around him. Joni is, sadly, still absent from the musical world following her brain aneurysm last year; Crosby, always the most honest and entertaining figure on twitter for us fans, answers more questions about her health than any other item it seems but has no more news than the rest of us. Instead he keeps telling fans that his favourite writer in the whole world is still Joni, even after all these years, all those other great figures he's hung out with and the fact that he once 'lost' her to his former best friend, turned fiend Nash. Joni's trick, at least until she discovered synthesisers in the 1980s, was to always let the songs breathe - to leave lots of spaces and breaks between the words, as if pausing for breath mid-line. Crosby does the same here a lot and it's a subtle change in his songwriting voice. Though these songs are usually personal they often feel as 'detached' as Joni's personal songs too, as if they're happening to someone else in the third person and don't involve sudden moments of emotion or power that were once such a part of Crosby's style ('What Are Their Names?' slow rise and fall of tension is pure Crosby for instance). It helps too that guest singer Becca Stevens sounds not unlike Joni anyway (Crosby should make an album with Art Garfunkel's partner Mia Sharp - they'd sound great together!) This album is still too knew and too fresh to be truly reviewed in this sense yet, but after the first half-a-dozen playings (the AAA is a few weeks ahead of itself so I'm actually writing this review less than a week after the record was released) it sounds like a grower: on the first listen nothing happens, on the second listen not much more happens, but by the sixth there's colour and texture here missed the first time round. It makes sense, too, that this sounds more like an album of (admittedly gloriously recorded) demos more than anything else - and that League encouraged Crosby to write and record it within three days, as simply as possible (in other words it's the first Croz album to engage with Neil Young's old 'first thought, best thought, only thought' policy - it's a lot better than 'Greendale', that's all I'm saying).
In other words, it couldn't be less different than the last solo effort 'Croz' only released a couple of years ago (a blink of an eye in Crosby discography terms - old age has really boosted his creativity lately!) Though a lot of fans adored that record I never really did - it was all a bit in-yer-face and tried a little too hard to be radio-friendly and commercial. That album actually used up most of my goodwill after the first listen as I kept hearing bits of recycled Crosby songs that hadn't quite been joined up into new ones yet, played in a style that felt forced. For a songwriter who always prided himself on sounding not like anyone else on earth (no jazz tunings!) 'Croz' sounded like an identity crisis, despite the name in the title and perhaps a little desperate for a hit (to be fair Crosby did really need the money at the time, I'd have probably done the same, only far worse). By contrast 'Lighthouse's greatest strength is that it doesn't care what anyone thinks - it's going to be ooze natural Crosby loveliness in a variety of slow acoustic ballads that make the most out of sounding like pure Crosby tunes, even if this too sounds a little like recycling at times. The album's weakness however is its lack of variety - while 'Croz' jumped around a lot and got annoying that way, this album is content to sit in a rocking chair and barely move, across almost of the (rather short) running time of 40 minutes. That's fine if you want to meditate while the album is on in the background - of all the CSNY works in their by now pretty hefty canon this is the most suitable for that, with no sudden surprises, changes of direction or mood swings. 'Drive Out To The Desert', for instance, is about that very subject, of emptying your mind and enjoying simply being alive while feeling 'humble'.
The other sad loss is Crosby's other son, James Raymond. The two haven't had a falling out or anything (unlike most people in the CSNY camp these days I fear), but 'Croz' was almost as equally a Raymond album as Crosby brought himself slowly up to full speed after a short creative drought. After all, if you can't write with your talented keyboard-playing children, who can you write with? At times James' commercial ear got slightly in the way of that album, made largely in his studio (and with dad sleeping on a couch so as not to break the muse); by contrast 'Lighthouse' is a family album all the way through - despite the fact James doesn't play a note. That's a shame because James is, at least on the CPR albums, Crosby's perfect foil - enough like him but just different enough to bring out a new direction and with even greater jazz chops. Much as I didn't like 'Croz' the album, I've always enjoyed their partnership. By contrast Snarky Puppy's Michael League isn't in the same, well, league. I must confess I don't really understand the Puppy's music which reads on paper like a CSNY fanatic's wet dream: jazzy, eccentric and forthright. In practice it just sounds like a lot of funky rough edges with no real tune (Crosby clearly hears something I don't hear, but then I'm not that keen on his other love Steely Dan for much the same reasons). To give him credit, League doesn't do the obvious thing I was fearing and make a 'jazz' Crosby album (although I'm sure Croz has got one in him somewhere) - however 'Lighthouse' does bear all his hallmarks as producer in being a strangely melody-less album with no songs you can hum after the record ends (at least on the first half-dozen listens - that might change too with time). Crosby is one of the greatest melodic writers there ever was, but none of the tunes on this album stand out at all. Oddly for a producer whose spent so much of his career working with rhythm first and foremost, nor do the beats with virtually the only percussion on this album coming from Crosby's own wedding ring, plucking away at the side of his acoustic. Though the album's an improvement, I'd have rather have James back again (assuming we couldn't get SN or Y). Funnily enough Michael sounds not unlike Nash at times across this album when he sings - while weirdly Graham's new collaborator Shane Fontayne sounded not unlike Crosby!
I miss, too, the emotional revelations of the CPR days. back then Crosby was still so shocked at being alive and healthy that his songs had a certain edge, a ticking time-bomb that was urging him to reveal everything about his thoughts on life from un-expunged loss ('Somehow She Knew'), death ('Time Is The Final Currency') and just how desperately he needed family around him ('At The Edge', this album's parent song' in that it refers to a family as a lighthouse for the first time). This album isn't 'what did they do with the life they gave you?' put-your-life-straight-now! kind of songs but 'lie on your back and your eyes will finally see' kind of songs. There's room for both sorts of course and it's great to hear someone we love as much as Crosby sounding so happy for the first time across a whole CD - if anyone deserves a record full of peace and tranquillity it's Croz and it's good to hear he's found it despite ongoing money problems and band problems. This isn't a problem as such, but it does stop 'Lighthouse; from being one of those definitive career-changing albums (the way I suspect 'This Path Tonight' will be seen). This isn't an album that raises it's game through guilt about the past, pressure from the present or fears of the future but one that's having fun in the here and now and doesn't have much ambition past that.
The closest this album comes is the album's other highlight 'Look In Their Eyes', the only real bit of political commentary here. Crosby is observing again, watching media coverage of the refugee camps in France (in case this period gets white-washed in history in the future, it was the deeply mortifying moment when most European countries decided that it was somebody else's job to house the poor, needy and hungry and turned their backs on them to starve in a man-made jungle). Crosby wonders why they're being painted as villains, scoundrels and chancers when all they're trying to do is live - a 'look in their eyes' telling him far more than a biased news report. 'They don't mean a thing to you' he snarls - and yet even this song isn't angry or bitter the way the old Crosby of 'Long Time Gone' or even as recent as 'They Want It All' would have been. It's as if Crosby's used to the stupidity of man by now - he's not going to waste his temper on it now. It's a shame though that he doesn't lose it a little more across this album, if only for variety (the only other song that tries the same trick is 'Someone Other Than You' but even this is only angry in a Phil Collins 'Another Day In Paradise' type way - yep, Crosby was on that song too!)
Overall, though, 'Lighthouse' is a strong return to form - probably Crosby's best work since the under-rated CPR albums in 1999 and 2001. However I'm not sure I agree with some fans who are rating this album as being up there with the very best and comparing it to Croz's younger work. There simply isn't any new ground covered here; no brave stabs at politicians we can get behind, no new styles to get lost in, no massive outpouring of the soul and no real 'wow' moments (though 'For Love' comes closest). That doesn't make it a bad album - in fact it's rather good - but it's not un-missable the way that so much of Crosby's past works were. It's a soft pretty thankful sigh of an album rather than an emotional maelstrom the way that 'If Only I Could' or 'Oh! Yes I Can' were. However in its own way this album of acoustic loveliness is brave. After years of being one of the loudest, most opinionated musicians on the planet, with an opinion on everything (often in contrast to his reputation as part of a mellow hippie band) this is Crosby at last living in the moment and feeling 'small' and humble. That is quite a journey in itself - and funnily a very similar one to Graham's on 'This Path Tonight' where he too found humility by being small and vulnerable. However what this album doesn't have is the dancing shadows of darkness to give it an extra dimension or three.
Though like most of the CSNY fanbase I have a stance on the current feud despite not having seen the emails that apparently ended everything (I'm by and large on Crosby's side - Nash's comments in his 'Wild Tales' book were spiky and Crosby was right to want a correction, although given this album's vibe about family life and the fact that Crosby was right there when Graham met wife Susan and spent a lot of time with them both Nash's departure for a younger model may not have sat well with him either, especially the same year Young chose to do the same); the more troubled times and excitement of the new led Nash to write the better and more daring album in the CSNY this year. Both, however, are fine works - far better than we have any right to expect from musicians now in their 70s. If quiet, peaceful, still, acoustic CSN albums is up your alley then this is the record you've longed for - doubly so if that's what you hoped 'Stills Alone' from 1991 was going to be alike before you realise how much his voice had aged - and did we mention that Crosby's voice is still as warm and gorgeous and subtle as ever? Like a lighthouse before you, at the edge of the sea, this is an album to remind you that the darkness won't get you, that your family won't go, that you'll end up where you know you should go. And that makes 'Lighthouse' more like 'This Path Tonight' than perhaps either man is prepared to admit.
Opener 'The Things We Do For Love' is gorgeous, like all your blissful hippie Christmasses come at once. An angelic, fragile backing is the perfect accompaniment for a lyric about a girl whose terrified of losing her love and will do anything to hold it. Crosby's narrator is clearly moved at witnessing this, though his response is not to tell her he loves her or do anything drastic but to prove to her, slowly, day by day, how much he lovers her back. This song is clearly about his and Jan's courtship, which took place down 'parallel tracks' that were always going to align themselves one day - the two lovers were clearly fated and couldn't help it. A rare example of a full group chorus on this album (mainly multiple Crosbys, with a few Michael Leagues for good measure) sudden allow this timid, nervy little song to blossom into full bloom and it's simply breathtaking, with a sudden burst of beauty and confidence that makes it sound the same, yet different. Crosby's pure vocal is beautiful - his strongest in years - as he tries to calm doubts, smooth fears and contradict his early songs of time-ticking by telling the couple not to worry - they have oh 'so much time' to spend together and get it right. They're clearly meant to be a couple so they were always going to get it together eventually. The fact we're hearing this other acoustic picking that sounds a little like 'Guinevere', that other Crosby song about time immemorial across the ages, only heightens that feeling about fate and certainty even if the song ends with a troubled question mark ('where do you stand?', a line perhaps addressed to Nash or Young or both). There's a stark contrast here between Graham's boredom and need to discover something new and David's belief that if you've found the right partner time spent together will only make you closer, not split you apart. The clear album highlight and easily the best and most substantial Crosby song of the 21st century so far.
'The Us Below' is melodically 'In My Dreams' with a few alterations. This is quite a noisy song by this album's standards, reaching a peak of indignation in the middle and a few atonal jazz chords either side of it. The lyrics are more memorable than the melody and finds Crosby in awe at the sheer size of Earth and the universe, looking back on the world as if meditating in space. Crosby can feel the love coming from a couple separated by both sides of the planet but also feels all that ice between them and mournfully ponders 'why must we be eternally alone?' There's a slightly critical tone though, as 'Science, God and you all agree that this isn't how it's meant to be'. Crosby may well be seeing human romantic love as a metaphor for how humanity has treated their planet here, urging mankind to find a 'common ground' and make the world better. However this song is less right-on than other CSN ecological songs and seems afraid than man is never going to get it together than impatiently ticking down the clock until he sees sense and puts things right - there's none of the anger of 'Barrel Of Pain' or 'After The Dolphin' for instance, more the quiet tears of 'Wind On The Water'. A more memorable melody would have made for greater impact, but this is another strong, thoughtful song.
'Drive Out To The Desert' is the most immediate song on the album: it oozes warmth and contentment as Crosby simply wallows in being part of the universe, of being alive. The melody doesn't flow so much as roll, delighting in taking it's time to appreciate each and every chord and note. After such a busy, difficult , complex life it's great to hear Croz trying not to mourn a lost girlfriend or disable a Government or try and tell us life lessons he learnt the hard way but simply to be - to exist rather than teach or think. If you're of the meditating frame of mind (personally I hate 'emptying' my mind - I don't know what to do with it without music in it) then this is the Crosby track you've always dreamed of. However even for a meditative song this one moves slowly. The song doesn't really have anywhere to go - not that that's a problem when you can stand still as well as Crosby - and that means this song doesn't have the impact of some others, drifting on past your ears without really grabbing you in even if the sheer warmth of this track makes it the one that 'crystallises' in your memory first. Sometimes, like the song says, it's probably better to observe rather than over-think and this is one of those songs (hope there aren't too many like that or it would put me out of business!)
'Look In Their Eyes' is close to being another Crosby masterpiece. A heartfelt song about the refugee 'Jungle' camps seen on the news and the squalid conditions suffered simply because people can't do the decent thing and offer help to fellow humans in pain, it's an obvious CSN style song about an obvious CSN subject. What's missing from the past is the anger: 'They don't mean a thing to you, but if you take a step backwards it's your story too!' is exactly the sort of line a 1969-era Crosby would have spitted with venom, usually while being changed round the mix by a Stills-Young guitar at full steam. Even this song, the album's most rebellious outward looking and critical moment, is a quiet revolution for once, treated with bliss and harmony rather than burning injustice and anger. To be honest, it's quite hard to click into such a different style Crosby song and it seems a little odd too that such an ugly subject matter gets such a pretty singalong riff to go with it. This sounds more like a Phil Collins track than a typical Crosby song, a tutted response that still has hope that things can be put right before anyone gets hurt (it makes more sense when you realise what close friends the two musicians are). The melody is perhaps a little too happy-go-lucky for its own good though, drifting along like much of this album rather than pointing the finger a song like this needs to. The closing chant of 'look in their eyes what do you find?' ought to come with the sting of a 'What Are Their Names?', especially when the rest of the song drops away to leave just a mass chanted chorus of voices standing up for their rights. Instead it 'just' sounds quite pretty. And a song with Crosby tackling an awkward subject that no one else is brave enough to touch feels like it should be more than just pretty. Still, this is another strong song lesser songwriters aren't brave enough to touch.
The hardest song on the album to like is 'Somebody Other Than You'. Maybe that's deliberate - it's about the differences between people when really we're so similar and the walls built between those who don't want to imagine the people beneath them are real people with real feelings (though 'walls' aren't mentioned by name this is still the most Stills like song on the album!) The opening verse appears to be about an un-named official ('The worst of the lot, you are!) or maybe the whole bunch of them. As on 'They Want It All' Crosby wonders why the people in power are the ones least likely to understand the meaning of fairness and kindness. This class of people always leave the dirty jobs to somebody under them - 'somebody's brother' 'mother', anyone, without realising that these people have a life and a family too. A snarling atonal lurch into jazz is ear-catching in all the wrong ways - the one moment of tension across this whole album - and the higher pitch and manic grin doesn't really suit Crosby. A second verse has Crosby declare himself through, tired of watching people getting 'fat' through inheritance. A cascade of delicious chords roll away from the harshness at the centre of the song, as the melody plays cat and mouse throughout. The closest to the 'old' Crosby lyrically, sadly these lyrics aren't up to his very best and it quickly becomes a 'list' song.
'The City' is rather an oddball too. A funkier acoustic song than most on the album, it's based around a nifty little riff quite unlike anything else in the Crosby catalogue (and sounds more Like Michael League's work) and sounds like a bright energetic spark. That's suitable for a lyric about a girl whose a real livewire with a heart of gold, one 'not upset to step on people like me' and who was a 'beauty by day but a danger at night'. My guess is that the person Crosby sees as a 'child on the movie screen' is really actress Drew Barrymore. Croz has never really talked about his time as an unofficial guardian to the actress, who stayed with him for several months at the age of fourteen as a halfway house between the clinics she hated and the family home she hated even more. Crosby didn't know Drew personally but he knew her actor father John through his own family ties to the Hollywood industry (Croz's father was award winning cinematographer Floyd) and he no doubt identified with trying to live up to a successful family name. This was in 1989 when Croz had been out of prison for three years and was keen to repay karma for helping him get his life back on track by reaching out to fellow sufferers. David and Jan offered the actress a stable home for the first time in her young life, wasn't trying to make money out of her (unlike everyone else she knew) and could relate to her dependencies and relapses. Crosby certainly sounds like the father figure she needed, telling reporters outside her first day at an AA clinic (as opposed to an AAA clinic where they treat dependency on lengthy music reviews!): 'It's kind of like your baby walking off into traffic - but I think she's going to make it!' 'The City' shares that same sentiments - theirs livewire is trying to throw everyone off the scent the way many addicts do, give into self-destruction and the need not to feel the pain of living anymore. Crosby sighs as she 'puts them to the test' (he wasn't used to being a 'parent' at the time - he didn't even know James had been born and Django arrived in 1999). So this song is less about Drew Barrymore the star and more about an anxious first-time parent who can't tell off a girl he barely knows because he's done the same and worse and feels the same tug that 'somehow got a hold on me'. All Crosby can do is show by example how not to do things, praise her when she does well and be understanding when the 'wind' blows - 'all you can do is your best to stay in' he sighs, cutting off the parties and drunken friends he used to know so well himself. Crosby knows that it's an inevitable fight in many respects ('she can't lose - and you can't win!') and that she was always going to play by 'her own rules', but equally he does what he can and urges everyone in the same situation to do the same. After a final whirlwind flurry of acoustic chords, he closes the song with a blissful extended coda that's one of the prettiest moments on the album and the motto that runs all the way through. 'Leave the light on' he urges us, asking us to be kind to those going through pain and comfort and without the stability they need in life. 'Leave it on all night long'.
'Paint You A Picture' is the most CPR-ish track on the album. Crosby stills feels haunted by loss and people he wasn't very good to - I'm willing to bet this song is the latest in a long line about girlfriend Christine Hinton in a car crash in 1970. Winter's moving in and it reminds him of past times when he lost her. 'I thought we'd be together but I thought wrong' he sighs, 'too much heavy weather for much too long'. There's so much she missed that he wants to tell her about though - the way California looks now in the Winter, his continued sobriety and his happiness in an old age she never got the chance to see. Crosby still admits that, even after all this time, 'I'm still aching for a taste of your mouth'. Then again, maybe this song's for Joni, poorly and at one point housebound in her house and unable to experience the weather outside herself. Joni always used nature a lot in her songs exactly like this and this sad, mournful song has the feel of 'River' about it, Joni's career-best song where she bids goodbye to Nash while gazing across a frozen lake and kicking herself for letting him out of her sight - or maybe 'Urge For Going', a song about the changing seasons where 'winter is closing in' ust like here which Crosby-Nash recorded but abandoned in 1971 (it made it out on the 1990 CSN box set). The imagery of this whole album is very Mitchell-inspired but especially this song which could easily be one of her own as nature carries on oblivious to human emotion and discovery going on around it. Perhaps Croz is trying to tell her what happened to her old boyfriend Nash too, with similar imagery of loss and mourning. Or maybe it's written for Susan Nash, a close friend of Crosby's, in a 'Hey Jude' like show of solidarity that love hurts but times change (McCartney wrote it for Cynthia Lennon after John moved in with Yoko). Whatever the inspiration, it's a pretty song but as it's mainly descriptive without any meaning given in the song it's not quite as involved or as emotional as the similar sounding CPR songs about loss, memory and weather.
'What Makes It So?' is the latest in a long line of Crosby songs that date back almost to the first - the 'how the hell did the world get so messed up and how are we meant to cope?' song that first reared its head as early as 'What's Happening?!?!?' on Byrds 1966 album 'Fifth Dimension'. However it's not just a song about what but about who, with Crosby again turning his wrath on the people who dictate how we live our capitalist lives ('How can there be only one way?' he wonders). The world is infinite, full of wonder and new things to experience, so why do humans limit themselves is the main theme. Crosby is clearly inspired by his and Nash's trips to the Wall Street protests when they were pretty much the only two 'celebrities' brave enough to come out and stand with the anti-banker demonstrators. However this song too feels a little muted, as if Croz has taken all that grief and confusion and pain and written a peaceful song about it instead of his usual rocking protests. The track works in a Martin Luther King turn-the-other-cheek kind of a way and Crosby's vocal is one of his best on the album, direct and passionate but cool. But this is one of those songs on the album that feels like a demo for something to be added later and calls out for a Stills burst of anger or a snide Young solo instead of the rather hammy organ and clichéd blues riff that plays in bursts every so often. The humming harmonies are rather poor for a CSN-linked record too.
The album ends on 'By The Light Of The Common Day'. Musically it's another rather forgettable song with not much happening and Crosby speak-singing a lyric that was obviously written before music was added. Croz sings alongside jazz singer Becca Stevens and while her vocals are strong too, their voices really jar - they have the wrong timbre somehow and sound as if they're working against rather than together; this is also amongst Croz's most personal songs and it shame it ends up coming out like identi-kit Norah Jones. However lyrically it's much better. Back in 1969 'Long Time Gone' came with one of the best middle eights ev-uh as the singer told us 'the darkest hour is always just before the dawn'. This song is a whole extension of that fact: that things will always seem easier when bad times are past and that day always follows night. Crosby knows from hard experience how tough life can be, but he's lived long enough to get his 'reward' for taking better care of himself - stability he never experienced in his younger days. 'I was wrong of course I see now' he tells us about his wilder younger days when drugs got in the way of his creativity for years. Unlike the narrator of 'Shadow Captain' and 'Delta' who felt lost and steered in directions not of his own doing, now Crosby feels firmly in control. The really great news is that the music he used to have to work so hard to hear is now 'knocking at my door trying to get in' - Crosby has so many ideas he can't keep up with them! The song ends with Crosby, formerly one of the most rebellious rule-breaking form-changing musicians who ever lived, telling us that we'll survive if we have faith in 'some lifting force of light' that will 'raise its voice and then raise yours'. The muse seems to be strong with Crosby these days (there's a sequel to this album due out very soon!) and it's a delight to hear him saluting it in song in a manner more usual for Stills or Young. It's just a shame that a song about the healing powers of inspiration and giving yourself so fully over to it comes over sounding like one of Crosby's more generic songs until you get to know this song properly and let it breathe.
That's probably true of the whole album actually. Fittingly 'Lighthouse' gets stronger every time you play it and get 'nearer' to its source and peel back the occasional period production, gratuitous extras and the occasional forgettable melody. This is a work that often reads better than it sounds with the lyrics strong throughout but the music not always matching it for inspiration. In many ways this is also Crosby's simplest CD, certainly outside his covers project 'Thousand Roads' - the record can be summed up by a man lying on his back in the desert looking up at the stars, with memories flitting past his eyes, old music flittering past his ears (many of these songs sound familiar in a way no Crosby set ever has before) and thoughts whistling through his head. There's nothing deep going on here, no attempt to really address guilt about the past or fear of the future as Croz usually does so well and there's no major attacks on the people who deserve it this time around, just a gentle 'oi!' at best. If groundbreaking Crosby is what you want then there are other albums that perform this function a lot better. But no matter, that isn't what this album is about: this is a man at last happy with his present, content to live in the moment and simply be. At times it's as pretty as any album in the CSN catalogue. At other times it's as clever, with some interesting subject matter handled with aplomb. What it doesn't have is the passion and fire of the Crosby of old, the very things that Nash left his life behind for in the search for something new to inspire him. Crosby, though, is content to get his inspiration from the things and people that are loyal and faithful and true to him and that he knows he can trust completely. Though Nash couldn't handle the quiet and still, it's helped Crosby re-discover his voice and while this isn't always a great album it's a good one - the best in some time.