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.
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"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.