Written by 2:31 pm Audiophile Music, Audiophile, Audiophile News, Compact Disc, Streaming, Vinyl

Listening Report: David Crosby’s Rich Recording Renaissance

Mark Smotroff relishes a living legend’s latest…

Music legend, masterful songwriter, guitarist and vocalist David Crosby has a fine new album out called For Free. Named after the classic Joni Mitchell song, the album is another part of Crosby’s spectacular late career renaissance that continues to deliver mind-bogglingly wonderful music.

At a time when most musicians are winding down — or at minimum struggling to put out some new music — David Crosby has been thriving, releasing some of the best music of his entire career.

Some of you may have noticed that For Free was released digitally last year but I held off on reviewing it because — well, frankly — physical albums are generally much more fun to write about! The album was just released recently on vinyl. Also, I’ve learned that people like looking at images of records on social media, I will admit. Posting “screen grabs” of streaming graphical user interfaces isn’t all that interesting visually. 

Most importantly, I like the notion of being able to tell you about something which can actually benefit the artist. So if you purchase the physical album or CD, chances are the artist will make significantly more than the mere pennies he/she/they might receive from streaming (even from the best of the services).   

Last week, I happened to be near a Barnes & Noble and scored their last copy of the limited edition colored vinyl version of For Free. Pressed in “fruit punch” flavored (if you will) vinyl, it actually looks more akin to a vintage red-brown 78 RPM disc from the 1920s, which alone is a pretty cool thing aesthetically. 

The music on For Free is rich in melody and harmony with a warm jazz undertone. If you’ve been following Crosby’s adventures of recent years, you know that he’s not only a Steely Dan fanatic but had achieved a dream in recent years of actually performing on stage with the band. Taking that relationship a step further, one of the new songs — “Rodriguez For A Night” — was co-written by none other than Dan cofounder Donald Fagen!  Happily and not surprisingly it feels like a lost classic Steely Dan tune, replete with punchy horns, tight harmonies and a signature stinging guitar solo.

The opening track,”River Rise” features another pop music legend, Michael McDonald, on backing vocals, giving the song a vintage Steely Dan sound that is like so much sweet buttercream icing atop the tastiest of layer cakes. For those not in the know, McDonald was a touring member of the Dan over the years and also appeared on several of their best albums including the smash hit Aja and — my personal favorites — The Royal Scam and Katy Lied.  

In a perfect world “River Rise” would be a pop hit on AM radio.

(Radio… ‘member that?)

One of my other favorite songs on the album is “The Other Side Of Midnight” (which curiously has some chord changes which remind me of a fantastic song written by Zappa guitarist Mike Keneally and XTC’s Andy Partridge, “I’m Raining Here Inside,” although Crosby’s tune sounds nothing quite like that… but I digress).

Like many of Crosby’s albums, For Free is one of those recordings where each time you listen you get more and more from it — the album is already sinking its many earworms into my psyche. This is a good thing when an album makes you want to play it over and over start to finish. That doesn’t happen so much these days, folks. 

When I first heard the title track, again a cover of Joni Mitchell’s classic from Ladies Of The Canyon, I was a little surprised in some ways that the arrangement didn’t lift off into some broader jazz spaces. But by the second listen I grew to appreciate and love this spare duet version — with harmony vocals by Grammy Award winning songwriter/singer Sarah Jarosz — which subtly pays tribute to the original while finding its own voice. 

The Barnes & Noble special edition of For Free is pressed on nice, standard weight (not 180-gram) vinyl. It is quiet and — most importantly for me — well centered. I’m pretty sure this is a digital recording so the album does have a bit of a modern production feel while still feeling classic and timeless. This is not a bad thing, but I am just setting some realistic realistic expectations for those of you, Dear Readers. 

I haven’t spent much time with the streams on Tidal and Qobuz’s because they’re both at 44.1 resolution 24-bit. They sound pretty good but at the end of the day I think I preferred listening to For Free on vinyl which warmed up the sound quite a bit.

If you haven’t been listening to David Crosby’s music I urge you to check it out. I have reviewed the number of his albums here on Audiophile Review. Click here for a recent catch-up overview I wrote.  

You can order For Free online — including an exclusive blue colored vinyl version from Crosby’s own website, click here —- or you can find it in your favorite record stores (and at Barnes & Noble). Whatever way you get to the music, you should definitely listen. David Crosby joyfully counters all preconceptions about what older musicians are supposed to be doing with their lives.

A line from one of Crosby’s old band mates comes to mind at this moment..

“Hey hey, my my, rock and roll can never die… 

There’s more to the picture than meets the eye…”

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