Steve Nieve (Elvis Costello and the Attractions) Talks David Crosby’s Croz

“Even if I dream alone on such a dangerous night, somehow I know I am going to dream again tonight,” sings David Crosby on "Dangerous Night," a...

They are certified legends. And they also write for the Talkhouse.  From a Talking Head to a hard rock icon, this week we’re highlighting archival pieces written by members of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

“Even if I dream alone on such a dangerous night, somehow I know I am going to dream again tonight,” sings David Crosby on “Dangerous Night,” a song he penned with his son James Raymond and one of 11 killer tracks from Croz, his first solo album in over 20 years. Croz is a beautiful ode to redemption; it doesn’t preach at you, it has its doubts. The opening drum groove sets the tone, where the snare hits on an unusual, unsettling beat. This is complex and at the same time simple and spare. I love this album.

“Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man” as presented by the Byrds, was the amazing-sounding record that drew me into a lifetime obsession with song, and the chief credit for its warm vocal harmonies — David Crosby. Human voices, singing different notes that fit perfectly, is a wonderful, moving experience: Audible Togetherness. Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young arrived bigger than the Beatles — their harmonies, their guitars, acoustic and electric, were from another planet far, far away from England and dusty old Europe. They were “real”-sounding, not gimmicks, and they drew us into a Californian dream world. We all wanted to go to America.

Croz, a friendly nickname between familiar folks, could just as easily have been Cross, as in anger — and maybe that’s the point, because on this record, “Croz” has put the anger behind him and moved it on to a constructive place. “Angry isn’t how I want to spend the time I have” (“Time I Have”).

You have to know something about humanity to make the wedding of so many voices in harmony. It has nothing to do with time or experience, Crosby possesses this intuition, has done so intrinsically since the beginning. The amazing thing about Crosby’s voice here: it is the voice of a kid. Sit back, close your eyes and be taken on a modern ride. “Walk on, walk on, no need to carry that load. No more no more” (“Set That Baggage Down”).

I love the riotous intro of “The Clearing” and the dry drum fill, and now we are rocking deep and dark: “Fear doesn’t live inside the blind… This kind of love don’t need a home, this kind of heart beats all alone,” marvelous sonics between one note begging guitar and sweeping Moog synthesiser.

With “Holding On to Nothing,” David seems to be singing right in front of you. On the line “Sunny days can fool you,” the phrasing is sweet as honey, and how sublime when the trumpet of Wynton Marsalis enters, that fourth note, the devil’s note, and the tall Californian redwoods fuse with New York skyscrapers. “Today I’m somebody new, not really knowing, just coming and going, a stranger just passing through.”

Listen to this record on a very expensive audio system, because this is a beautiful gemstone of a recording. In fact, listen on headphones: the spaces around the instruments, and the space inside the musical arrangements will not, like so many modern records, smother you, pin you down to your shoe soles. This is soul music that elevates and makes you fly, in space and time. This is unusual, surprising, modern music, played with extraordinary musicianship, and at the same time, spare and sparse, every nuance captured in pristine brilliance by co-producers Daniel Garcia and James Raymond, and their team.

At first glance the “speaker” seems to be a nobody, an unwanted. Then layers of meaning begin to unravel and deeper thoughts, the universal loneliness, the struggle to overcome fear, our connection to the infinite, our struggle to put anger behind or constrain it in a constructive place, once and for all.

When you lost your mama, when you lost your job…
Set that baggage down

(“Set That Baggage Down”)

The harmony singing chorus of “Dangerous Night,” for me another emotional high point, had my eyes stinging, the hairs on my back and my arms bristling like a wolf:

Send me someone who has doubts about it
Who has conquered their own fear and lived to tell about it
Someone who won’t give up in the frozen rain
Who’ll walk right next to me through the orchards and the grain

“If She Called” is one of Crosby’s most elegant songs ever. Again, Crosby seems sitting right in front of me, singing so softly and effortlessly, with just his acoustic guitar. But it’s mightier than an entire symphony orchestra. “Hold it up to the light… images, images telling the truth to us all.” I love the angular, clean lines from the electric guitar of Shayne Fontayne (aka Mick Barakan), the English connection, dialoguing with James Raymond’s piano. Man, these musicians are good. They play in difficult time signatures, their music is neither rock nor jazz, nor folk, it’s a modern hybrid music that has a borderless quality. It is all music. I love it. I love Steve Tavaglione’s soprano saxophone on “Find a Heart.”

That final song, “Find a Heart,” offers words of comfort and advice: Crosby may be speaking to himself when he sings, “Find a heart that you can speak to in the language of your own soul.” Or is he speaking to all of us? “Make it work like touching skin, make it open so you can reach in.” A good songwriter digs deep down inside himself to really touch his listeners. “When you find this heart of yours/Keep it close enough to hear its cries… Go as deep as you can get.”

This superb album has another story. It’s a collaboration between two men: a son (Raymond) who was given up for adoption by a very young father (Crosby). That son became a musician without knowing who his biological father was, and together, they eventually formed a personal and musical bond, and recorded and toured successfully. That, in itself, is a wonderful togetherness redemption, and this recording is the audio harvest of all that pain and joy.

Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Steve Nieve has been Elvis Costello’s keyboardist since the first note of the Attractions. Nieve has recorded several acclaimed solo albums, including Welcome to the Voice, the classical opera he co-wrote with Muriel Téodori, released on Deutsche Grammophon in 2007. “ToGetHer” — a song cycle — continues the spirit of collaboration and brings together for the first time Sting, Vanessa Paradis, Elvis Costello, Laurie Anderson, Robert Wyatt, Muriel Téodori, Tall Ulyss, Ron Sexsmith, Harper Simon, Joe Sumner, Cali, Alain Chamfort. Available via 429 Records. You can find him on Facebook here, Twitter here and his website here.  Photo credit: Muriel Téodori