It seemed like the ‘70’s. David Crosby and Jackson Browne released new albums on the same day (July 23rd, 2021).
David Crosby had trouble keeping friends in recent years, especially his band mates Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, and Neil Young. So, he recruited other friends to help with his album, For Free.
The impressive cover painting is by Joan Baez. The first song, “River Rise” is a solid start for the album, and features great harmony work by Michael McDonald. Of course McDonald is known for his solo hits, as well as his work with The Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan. Crosby also got Steely Dan’s Donald Fagan to co-write one of the other tracks, “Rodriguez For A Night”, which definitely sounds like it would have been at home on a Steely Dan album.
The title track, “For Free”, is the well-known song by Joni Mitchell, and is done here as a duet with Sarah Jarosz. The song is about a popular singer spotting a street musician who is…”playing real good for free”. The recording has a beautiful sound, and they sing it in perfect harmony, but that’s the problem. If Sara Jarosz had only joined-in with harmony for portions of the song, it would have been effective. Unfortunately, with the two singing nearly every word in harmony, you can hear how hard they’re striving to stay in perfect synchronization. The song loses its story-telling flow. Crosby did a better version with The Byrds nearly 50 years ago. By the way, David Crosby turned 80 on August 14h, 2021, just after the release of this album, and his voice was still strong.
Despite the slight miss on the title track, this is a high quality album. The playing, singing, and arranging are all first rate. There are no clunkers to be found. Some of these songs would have worked great as Crosby Stills & Nash recordings, but the tracks on this album that have more of a pop/jazz feel (like “Secret Dancer”) are cool too. Of the flurry of albums David Crosby released late in his life, this is the best one.
For Free concludes with a touching song, “I Won’t Stay For Long”, by David Crosby’s son, James Raymond. It includes the lyrics… “I don’t know if I’m dying or about to be born, but I’d like to be with you today, and I won’t stay for long.”
It was a long stay in the music business for David Crosby. Since The Byrds hit with “Mr. Tamborine Man” in 1965, we’ve had the privilege of enjoying his talent. Whether he sang harmony or lead, whether in a group or solo, he always gave us his very original style. With all of David Crosby’s personal and health problems over the years, it’s amazing he made it to 81, and was still writing and singing at this high level. On January 18th, 2023 he passed away (It was announced on the 19th). His wife, Jan, released a statement that he died after a long illness, but members of his band said Crosby was preparing for a tour, even though he had to turn over his guitar parts to someone else. In recent interviews, Crosby said that arthritis in his hands made guitar playing difficult. Band members also said Crosby had been writing & recording new songs shortly before he died.
Extra: During a July, 2021 interview in the Los Angeles Times, Jackson Browne was asked if any musicians served as mentors to him when he was young. Here’s his answer: “David Crosby agreed to sing on my first record. He absolutely showed me how to record, how to multitrack vocals. He praised me to others and to myself, and that was really important. I feel a great debt of gratitude to David.”
Here’s the link to the review of Jackson Browne’s new album: https://ontherecords.net/2021/07/jackson-brownedownhill-from-everywhere-review/