Posts Tagged ‘Byrds’

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one of the most indelible musical icons of the past 50 years, David Crosby casts a presence that’s seemingly inescapable. In the ‘60s, it was his image of a beaming young man in a cape and fur hat with a mischievous look in his eyes and a kind of beatific attitude that first drew attention on the cover of the early Byrds albums. After parting ways with the band as they grew tired of his controversial comments, he grew his hair into a lion’s mane, doning a fringed buckskin jacket to pose on a coach besides his brothers in harmony for the cover of the first Crosby, Stills & Nash album. Later he shifted personas again, taking on the role of a defiant, paranoid druggie who railed against authorities with absolute indignation.
However, as years went by, all essence of amusement drained from his persona. He was the emaciated-looking man, ruined by the ravages of drugs, who made a plea for redemption from the pages of People magazine. Later, as a stone-faced, glassy-eyed mannequin he became little more than a token prop as he attempted to hold himself together onstage with Crosby and Nash.
Then there was the shock of seeing the newly shorn ex-con managing a smile on his release from the pen following his conviction for illegal possession of a handgun. More recently, he’s had the look of a benevolent, snowy-haired granddad happy to be immersed in harmony. A steely-eyed elder statesman, he readily shares his knowing smile.

It’s the latter persona that he projects on the phone, an eager, energetic enthusiast filled with exuberance and exhilaration because he’s still allowed to do the thing he loves, singing songs that satisfy him in a spiritual sense. Projecting that irrepressible optimism, he dutifully answers a reporter’s inquiring questions while speaking from his home in Santa Barbara. In fact, he comes across as earnest, affable and animated as an old pal you’re reconnecting with after far too many years. He’s so damn friendly and down-to-earth in fact, that two minutes into the conversation you abandon any obligation to call him Mr. Crosby and settle instead for just plain Dave.
That excitement was especially obvious when the subject turned to his new album, Sky Trails, the third in a series of recent releases following Lighthouse and 2014’s Croz.

We practically have a columns devoted to David Crosby’s incredible, inexhaustible, and curmudgeonly Twitter presence, but we rarely take an opportunity to highlight the man’s music, even though he’s making it at a regular, even-prolific pace. The Byrds and Crosby, Stills, and Nash alum’s solo oeuvre is a mixed bag, especially dependent on how much you categorically get into music definitely recorded at orgies. But his song “Sell Me a Diamond,” is a deathly-smooth, meditative miniature, and fully worth your time if you’re a devotee of ’70s Joni and Steely Dan. (We know from both rock’n’roll historyand Crosby’s tweet-storms that he is, too.)

Dipping into a throatier, conversational Donald Fagen cadence instead of sticking to his soaring CSN tenor, Croz sings about trying to negotiate the perfect, “conflict-free” diamond sale, and then gifting it to worthy, pure “souls.” Later, there’s a bit about the merits of turning off the grim news and “listen[ing] to children laughing” instead. As NPR notes, Crosby co-wrote the enigmatic song with his son, and the two are definitely working with some oblique metaphors. But over the shimmering ride-cymbal backbeat and steel guitar, it doesn’t really matter what it all means. It just sounds good as hell.

With an unexpected vigour, David Crosby’s late-career renaissance continues as he delivers Sky Trails, his third solo effort in four years. Arriving hot on the heels of 2016’s Michael League-produced Lighthouse, Sky Trails splits the difference between its predecessor’s spare acoustic ruminations and the singer/songwriter’s fascination with jazz. Produced by his multi-instrumentalist son, James Raymond, much of this set brandishes a full band as Crosby and his collaborators explore Steely Dan-style grooves on the funky opener, “She’s Got to Be Somewhere,” or politicized jazz-folk on the harmony-stacked “Capitol.”

On the gentler, more introspective side, piano ballads like “Before Tomorrow Falls on Love” and the excellent “Home Free” distinctively recall the mid-’70s experimental heyday of long time friend and peer Joni Mitchell, whose gorgeous “Amelia” Crosby faithfully covers here. Tonally and instrumentally, quite a bit of Sky Trails shares a kinship with Mitchell masterpieces like Hejira and The Hissing of Summer Lawns, utilizing fretless bass, jazz piano, soprano sax, and unconventional chord structures. On the folkier side, another highlight is the lovely acoustic title cut, co-written and co-sung by North Carolina singer/songwriter Becca Stevens. As a whole, Crosby touches on a number of pleasing themes and sounds on Sky Trails, lending his sweet tenor and trademark harmonies to material of surprisingly high quality given his recent prolificacy.

Gram Parsons’ Last Ride

With the benefit of hindsight, Cecil Connor III, rather better known to us as Gram Parsons, was always a candidate to live fast and die young. The hedonistic lifestyle of the man from Waycross, Georgia had hit his health badly even during his brief few years of brilliant creativity. But it was still a tragedy when the news emerged that Gram’s last ride, to the Joshua Tree National Monument in California, had led to his death on this date 42 years ago, on September 19, 1973.

The excursion to one of his favourite spots was planned as rest and recreation before the start of a new tour. He’d played live earlier in the year, including a show in Boston in April, where he performed some of the songs with which he had helped to create the very genre of country rock, such as ‘Drug Store Truck Driving Man,’ ‘Sin City’ and ‘That’s All It Took.

But only two days into the trip, Parsons was found unresponsive in his bedroom and after all attempts to revive him failed, was pronounced dead at Hi-Desert Memorial Hospital at 12.15am. The official cause of death was an overdose of morphine and alcohol. His coffin was stolen by his then manager Phil Kaufman and former Byrds roadie Michael Martin and taken to Cap Rock in the California desert. There, as per his own wishes, the body was set alight. Gram Parsons was later buried at the Garden of Memories Cemetery in Metairie, Louisiana.

But Parsons’ musical legacy is a rich one, in earlier days with the International Submarine Band, after he arrived on the West Coast in 1967, and his brief but pivotal time with the Byrds; then with Chris Hillman in the Flying Burrito Brothers and finally on his two solo albums, 1973’s ‘GP’ and the posthumously-released ‘Grievous Angel.’

When ‘GP’ was released, Rolling Stone described Parsons as “an artist with a vision as unique and personal as those of Jagger-Richard[s], Ray Davies, or any of the other celebrated figures.”

In its report on his death, the Village Voice quoted former Byrds drummer Mike Clarke, who said: “Man, I don’t think Gram ever met a drug he didn’t like. I guess there’s an object lesson there somewhere.”