Graham Nash’s first solo album in well over a decade gives the 74-year-old an impressive, though not unqualified, victory. He reportedly wrote 20 tracks with producer and guitarist Shane Fontayne within a month’s time, and the album itself took less than eight days to finish. That’s fitting, given the naked emotional quality of the tunes as well as their revealing subject matter. The former Hollie’s 38-year marriage had come to an end. His relationship with longtime collaborator David Crosby had wound down, and Nash seems keenly aware of his own mortality.

Still, this isn’t a dour affair. In the opening number, the singer proclaims that he’s stumbling in the dark and looking for light. He has no map, save for the one created by his own past. There’s something oddly comforting about those circuitous routes the heart and soul carry us down. And so it and “Myself at Last” recalls T.S. Eliot’s assertion that at the end of exploration we return to our point of departure and know the place for the first time. That line and these songs and this album are as much about the empowerment of self-discovery as they are about the freedom of letting go.

But this isn’t just a record about matters of the heart. Nash has rallied for doing what’s right his entire career. He’s sung about animal rights and social justice and so it’s no surprise that he touches on similar issues in “Golden Days.” The tune opens with him reflecting on his days with The Hollies, then travels to coming of age in the wake of World War II, then to the miracles that surround us in the present. We must see them that way, he seems to say, rather than dwell only on the nightmares. “Crack in the Sky,” meanwhile, serves to remind us that while nightmares persist we needn’t succumb to fear.

He’s at his best when grappling with those big questions. He’s also at his best when left alone with Fontayne. The peaks of their musical rapport can be found on “Myself at Last,” which leans heavily on gentle acoustic figures and the quiet intimacy of Nash’s voice. No doubt he’s suffered collaborators who’ve tried to impose their will upon his music. But this is a partnership based on sympathetic sensibilities. Fontayne knows which chords and melodic ideas come from early rock ‘n’ roll and which come from English church music and folk, and he’s especially adept at finding those nuances in “Target,” which recalls, in some small way, Joni Mitchell’s Blue.

But it’s “Encore,” which closes out the album, that finds Nash continuing to break new ground (Three bonus tracks—“Mississippi Burning,” “Watch Out for the Wind” and “The Fall” are fine but the main course remains the best). His performance sounds new, not quite in the voice or phrasing he’s used before. Unburdened by the chains of past collaborators he emotes freely. There are questions about who he is, who we are and, yes, where we’re going. Nash still isn’t there but he may be getting closer and we alongside him.

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