David Crosby continues late-career revival with atmospheric, harmony-laden collection

Out now: For Free is a meditative masterpiece from David Crosby, the high vizier of harmonic folk rock

David Crosby: For Free
(Image: © BMG)

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He may be just short of his 80th birthday, but David Crosby’s hyperactive muse still shows no sign of deserting him. 

Continuing in the richly melodic strain established on 2016’s Lighthouse, the follow up to 2018’s Here If You Listen finds him casting an eye back on a life well lived. ‘There’s no instructions and no map/No secret way past the trap,’ he sings amid a wall of shimmering acoustic guitars on I Think I Found My Way, while The Other Side Of Midnight is a harmony-drenched meditation on life’s slings and arrows in which he confesses: ‘In one moment my fate was sealed’.

After decades in the field, Crosby has mastered the art of combining weighty themes with authenticity, and Secret Dancer, an acoustic hymnal about nothing less than the creation of mankind, provides further proof. But such are his compositional skills, For Free is anything but indulgent. 

The singer’s mid-70s heyday is evoked in an atmospheric Ships In The Night. A stripped-back groove, it finds him delivering nocturnal insights (‘I am awake while the world sleeps’) over a dry-as-a-bone back beat augmented by splashes of sun-baked guitar and electric piano. 

Rodriguez For A Night (written by Donald Fagen), meanwhile, is a peach. A typically vivid portrait of a small-town hood, which could have come from a supersession featuring Crosby fronting an Aja-period Steely Dan, it’s worth the admission price on its own just to hear Crosby holler: ‘I’m just a drugstore cowboy!'

Made with his multi-instrumentalist son James Raymond and the nucleus of his band from 2017’s Sky Trails, this album is the sound of Crosby finally at ease with himself, his unique ability to make music which soothes while it informs still intact. 

River Rise is an impassioned ode to his native California, featuring the unmistakable backing vocals of Michael McDonald, while Shot At Me is a cleverly constructed comment on the psychological damage inflicted by war, based on a chance encounter with a military veteran. 

For all the grizzled philosophising, Crosby has always been at his best when at his most honest and intimate. The title track, a cover of a Joni Mitchell song, is a heartfelt duet with singer-songwriter Sarah Jarosz about the power of music, while I Won’t Stay For Long is a real something-in-my-eye moment, Crosby intoning: ‘I’m facing the squall line of a thousand-year storm/I don’t know if I’m dying or about to be born’. 

David Crosby’s late-career purple patch continues.

Paul Moody is a writer whose work has appeared in the Classic Rock, NME, Time Out, Uncut, Arena and the Guardian. He is the co-author of The Search for the Perfect Pub and The Rough Pub Guide.