David Crosby is perhaps best known for his work with The Byrds and as a founding member of Crosby, Stills, and Nash — and sometimes Young. His on again, off again relationship with the members of CSNY has produced some of the most popular songs of his career, while his solo works have received critical acclaim, if not popular adulation. Three years ago, a messy spat with Graham Nash permanently ended that relationship, at least as permanently as things between these longtime collaborators can be.
The rift left Crosby at the edge of a precipice, now in his mid-70s and unable to ever return to the safe haven of CSNY, but from that emerged some of the best work of his career. His latest album, Here If You Listen, is both a return to Crosby’s glorious past and perhaps the genesis of a newly fruitful collaboration, according to Billboard.
Out of the ashes of CSNY’s latest breakup rose Crosby’s newest beginning. In 2016, Crosby’s collaboration with Snarky Puppy’s Michael League and vocalists Michelle Willis and Becca Stevens produced the album Lighthouse. Critics saw the best of CSN in that album, with its folk vibe and focus on evocative songwriting, and it rejuvenated Crosby.
“When we got together, man, down in New Orleans to work on that record,” Crosby said, “it was a week of absolute heaven for me. I had a whole bunch of people who were totally into the music and right here, right now. They were not in it for the money, and they were not in it for the fame. They were in it because they loved to make good music.”
David Crosby is one of the all-time great harmony singers, and his talent is on full display as he blends seamlessly with League, Willis, and Stevens on various works on Here If You Listen. However, Crosby insists that his latest album is not a solo work, but a group album.
“Michael League is one of the most talented people I’ve ever run into in my life,” Crosby said. “Becca, she and Michelle Willis are completely different from each other and both are stunner writers and players, both of them. The chemistry was explosive. I’ve never seen such a creative flow. Ever. Anywhere. We wrote a whole record and recorded it in eight days! It was crazy! Absolutely crazy!”
While those claims may seem hyperbolic from someone who spent most of his life alongside Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, and Neil Young making some of the most iconic music of the last 50 years, the “back to the future” quality of Here If You Listen is best represented in two songs from Crosby’s CSN days. In “1967” and “1974,” the song begins with old demo recordings of Crosby composing new songs, then flows into a bright, modern composition of those songs, with the past literally morphing into the present right before our ears. The idea and execution of those two songs belonged to League.
Another instance of this phenomenon is seen in the band’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” which Crosby had originally recorded with CSN in 1970.
“We started singing it live,” Crosby recounts the first time the band performed their version live. “Four parts. And what happened was kind of magical. When we started doing it, the first time we hit that chorus, where it goes to reveal actual four different notes for a part, the audience started applauding right in the middle of the song.”
At 77-years-old, David Crosby is still here if you listen.