By the end of Croz, David Crosby's first solo studio album in more than two decades, the folk-rock forefather sounds quietly but assuredly upbeat.
"All the goodness that lies within is just around the bend," he sings in the album-closing song, Find a Heart, over summery saxophone lines and a spacious, jazzlike groove. If the tune reads like the concluding chapter of a self-help manual, so be it.
At 72, Crosby has survived the self-destruction of several rock 'n' roll lifetimes to earn a fleeting spot in the sun.
But it is fleeting, and Croz is less an affirmation and more of a meditation that often travels along dark corridors. Its songs seek identity — not for Crosby necessarily, but for those he encounters as he continues to seek a sense of peace that, over the years, has become less socially driven and more personal.
"Who wants to see an abandoned soul?" Crosby asks in the chorus of What's Broken as he views a rogues' gallery of personas that shift from the lonely to the purely desperate. Those sentiments reach a zenith on If She Called, in which he views a pack of prostitutes with largely paternal concern. The way these songs lead to the solace of Find a Heart makes Croz double as an album of discovery.
Croz also is a gorgeous listen. Working again with son James Raymond, the album wraps the wary, conversational tone of Crosby's singing with light, keyboard-dominated arrangements that sound less like his fabled work with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash and more like a pensive version of Steely Dan.
A few guests offer fittingly tasteful colors to this mix, including Mark Knopfler's patient, winding guitar solo that weaves through What's Broken and Wynton Marsalis' blue-hued trumpet line during Holding On to Nothing, which underscores the tune's uneasy calm and the conflicted ghosts that inhabit it ("Even words from a friend can bring back the pain").
But Crosby's prime cohort remains Raymond, who helps construct Croz not as the confession of a folkie elder but as the work of a vital, worldly and adult songsmith happily reaching out of his comfort zone. Alternately contemplative and uneasy (which inadvertently gives this music a wintry appeal), Croz is a quiet, bracing work that balances familiarity and invention.