Crosby has arguably been at his best outside the CSN (and sometimes Y) context.
David Crosby has arguably been at his best outside the CSN (and sometimes Y) context. Though he only released two solo albums between 1971 and 1989, those records, If I Could Only Remember My Name and Oh Yes I Can, provided insight into the depths of his writing and his ability to create uncluttered arrangements that spotlighted the poetry of his finely-tuned lyrics. His output since that second effort continued to be glacial at best: A 1993 release, Thousand Roads, found him covering Stephen Bishop, John Hiatt and Joni Mitchell with production that sometimes gussied up the material more than was necessary. Some argued that his 2014 effort, Croz, came off as overstuffed. Lighthouse is anything but.
This latest album is an intimate, nine-song affair, featuring production work from Snarky Puppy’s Michael League. Most of the songs invite us to imagine Crosby sitting across the table from the listener, running down freshly-minted tunes that any writer would be happy to have on hand, let alone a man who has never appeared terribly prolific. The veteran singer’s voice hasn’t aged unfavorably and the material is given added dimension by the years evident in that purest of throats. Time has done nothing to dull his sensibilities about the human condition, either.
That topic takes center stage here, whether on “Look in Their Eyes,” “Somebody Other Than You” or “Things We Do for Love.” The world isn’t always a pretty place in these songs, but Crosby doesn’t suggest that’s a reason for resignation. Instead, there’s a firm resolve to make things better (as there long has been in his songs). He sometimes glances toward the past, surveying a life that’s been well-lived, even when one hasn’t been living well. This isn’t some nostalgia show; at 75, Crosby doesn’t seem ready to suggest that his best days are behind him. That, it seems, would be a younger man’s game.
Among the themes and suggestions here are doses of something that may be redemption (“Somebody Other Than You”) and the power that perspective brings (“By the Light of Common Day”). There’s no finger-pointing nor are these the kind of songs that some of his contemporaries have written, songs that issue the sound of protest just a bit too much.
If he’s not too concerned with writing about the past or living in it, he doesn’t much care to sound trapped there. Lighthouse doesn’t try to recapture the vibe of an album such as If I Could Only Remember My Name, although, across both records, one can hear the artist grappling with large questions and creating as though his life depended upon it.
The quiet, understated nature of things might prove a little overwhelming for some, but the unmistakable purity of the journey becomes more rewarding through repeated listens. Crosby is a man of nuance, and if you mistake his sometimes sinewy song structures as meandering, then it’s your loss. As he’s demonstrated on various songs and recordings since the 1960s, his music is sometimes a conversation—with himself and others—and it twists in the various ways that verbal intercourse can.
If that sounds like jazz, keep in mind jazz is a genre that Crosby has praised repeatedly throughout his lifetime and demonstrated a skill for, even when some wanted to cast him as a bubblegum rocker for the hippie set. A hippie, yes, but almost always one with something to say and way of saying it that involved a steady patience and willingness to admit he couldn’t answer big problems with two, three or even four chords.
League proves himself the correct producer for this record, a musician who respects the material and the artist enough to avoid flooding him with contemporary trappings or encouraging him to take risks that would ultimately seem to diminish his powers. Is this Crosby’s best solo work? It may very well be, though time has always had a way of showing us just how strong he really can be.