It would be a fair assessment, in listening to some of David Crosby’s records through the decades, that he wasn’t always the most cheerful of artists.
Listen to “Everybody’s Been Burned,” the romantic lament he cut as a member of The Byrds in 1967. Turn to “Almost Cut My Hair,” the raging generational anthem he recorded with Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young on the milestone 1970 album “Déjà Vu.” Give a spin to “Cowboy Movie,” the scorching meditation from his 1971 debut solo album “If I Could Only Remember My Name.”
Sure, there were plentiful songs of peace and bliss, too. But Crosby’s music always reflected the times, his own and those of the world around him. And they weren’t always the best of times.
Then, of course, there was the offstage drama — specifically, the debilitating drug addictions that escalated during the ’80s, fracturing artistic endeavors and nearly killing Crosby in the process.
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Now listen to “Lighthouse,” a solo Crosby recording released last month. Markedly lighter in musical tone and emotional temperament than his earlier music, its nine songs reflect the moods of a markedly more genial but adventurous artist at age 75.
“Yeah, it’s been such an amazing journey, man,” said Crosby, who performs Saturday night at the Norton Center for the Arts in Danville. “I can’t really figure out why except that I’m happy.
“I’m a very happy guy, man. I’m just really happy in my life. My family is wonderful. My life is good. My friendships with musicians are very good and the songs are coming, which is crucial. I mean, I didn’t come here to be a star, I didn’t come to make a bunch of money and I did not come to get on the cover of Rolling Stone, although I have been on a bunch. I came because I love to sing and I love great songs. That I am blessed with them now is an incredible gift.”
Crosby, even in solo ventures, has thrived on collaboration. His co-pilot for “Lighthouse” is Michael League, leader/bassist of the popular jazz fusion band Snarky Puppy. League produced the album, co-wrote most of the songs and played guitar and bass throughout. The result was a light, drumless set of compositions that were collaborative from design to performance. League will also accompany Crosby at Saturday’s Danville concert along with songwriters and vocalists Becca Stevens and Michelle Willis.
“I don’t know how to describe the process,” Crosby said. “I know that you can’t do it unless you really like the person, so they have to be good people. Most people don’t really like to write with each other. I love doing it, because it gives you a much wider palette to work with and ups the quality level, usually.
“I’m just an incredibly lucky guy in that my desire to be very picky about songs has paid off because I think the songs are the key to the whole thing. You have to make sure that they have content rather than just surface.”
There is social unrest in the album, as in “Look in Their Eyes,” a reflection of the Syrian refugee crisis. But the songs “Time I Have,” “Paint You a Picture” (co-written by songsmith Marc Cohn) and “Things We Do for Love” present a portrait of an altogether more content Crosby, who recorded “Lighthouse” with League in roughly 16 days.
“That hasn’t been my experience in the past,” Crosby said “With the bands I’ve worked with, we took a long time in the studio. We partied in the studio, screwed around and goofed off, took our time and just had fun. Nobody can really afford to do it that way anymore. Michael and the engineer that he brought, Fabrice Dupont, are so good and so fast that I was really having to come up with my best just to keep up with them.”
Among the bands of the “past” is Crosby, Stills and Nash, one of the two groups that landed Crosby in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (The Byrds being the other). The trio’s on-again, off-again history now seems permanently off, with Crosby placing all priorities on his own music. He is already near completion on another solo record, this one a collaboration with his keyboardist/composer son James Raymond.
“It was just all organic,” Crosby said. “We (CSN) had finished up a run of work and I, quite naturally, turned to the alternative of making another solo record. That turned out to be a good choice.
“I don’t really understand how everything came about this way for me. I know it’s normally different for people at my age. Most of them kind of peter out or get lazy and don’t really try anymore. I try every day, man, and I feel that’s being rewarded.”