That If I Could Only Remember My Name was panned by critics in 1971 says more about 1971 critics than David Crosby. Recorded while he was still coming to terms with the death of his girlfriend Christine Hinton in a car crash in 1969, it’s an album which speaks to future mutations of rock and folk, its emotional drive buckling and melting conventional forms.
Although a solo album it features numerous guests, supportive contemporaries including Joni Mitchell, Jack Casady, Grace Slick, Paul Kantner as well as Graham Nash and Neil Young, who co-compose opener Music Is Love, a thing of ragged, therapeutic glory. Jerry Garcia in particular had Crosby’s back, soloing piercingly on Cowboy Movie and trading irregular licks on the protest song What Are Their Names.
Ultimately, mourning must be suffered alone and that’s the feel of his haunting arrangement of the traditional song Orleans and the opening section of I’d Swear There Was Somebody Here, stretching country harmony into the ethereal, ghostly realms of the avant garde. But the rising harmonic crest of Laughing (‘I was mistaken’) is equally devastating.
The bonus disc truly is a bonus, featuring early demos such as Riff 1, unreleased material such as Bach Mode, a further demonstration of Crosby’s sonic aspirations and an alternative version of Cowboy Movie featuring a heated Neil Young solo. These aren’t dispensable cuts but are of a piece with the tentative, triumphant experimentalism of the album as a whole.