David Crosby has announced the release of new album ‘For Free’, due out July 23rd 2021 via BMG, and arriving just a month before his 80th birthday. It finds the folk-rock legend “continuing to tap into the tremendous surge of creativity he’s experienced since the making of his acclaimed 2016 album’ Lighthouse’, this time collaborating with the likes of Michael McDonald, Donald Fagen of Steely Dan, and multi-Grammy Award-winning artist Sarah Jarosz.” And the press release doesn’t back down: “With a transcendent quality that lies somewhere between poetry, prayer, and wild-eyed rock-and-roll, For Free yet again reveals Crosby’s rare gift for imparting essential truths with both undeniable warmth and a profound sense of wonder.” In for a penny as it were.
Made with his son James Raymond (a multi-instrumentalist who also served as the album’s producer), the new record features a number of the musicians who joined Crosby on 2017’s ‘Sky Trails’, including saxophonist Steve Tavaglione and drummer Steve DiStanislao. Although much of the album encompasses the textures and grooves signature to the Sky Trails Band sound, its title comes from Crosby’s sparse cover of a Joni Mitchell classic he’s returned to many times over the years. “Joni’s the greatest living singer/songwriter, and ‘For Free’ is one of her simplest,” notes Crosby, who’s accompanied by Jarosz on the track. “It’s one of my favorite songs because I love what it says about the spirit of music and what compels you to play.”
The follow-up to 2018’s ‘Here If You Listen’, ‘For Free’ opens on ‘River Rise’ which you can listen to below, co-written with Raymond and McDonald, who also lends his vocals to the song’s soaring harmonies. “‘River Rise’ came from wanting to write something very evocative of California, but almost with a country-song perspective—something that speaks to the empowerment of the everyman or everywoman,” says Raymond.
The album also includes a track penned by Fagen expressly for the album. “Steely Dan’s my favorite band and I’ve admired Donald a long time, so that was a thrill for us,” he says. A detailed portrait of outlaws, angels, and drugstore cowboys, ‘Rodriguez For A Night’ merges Fagen’s storytelling with Crosby’s vocal presence. Crosby taps another friend for the album’s striking cover art, using a portrait Joan Baez painted of him.
For the final track on the album, Crosby selected a piece written solely by Raymond, ‘I Won’t Stay for Long.’ Inspired by Marcel Camus’s 1959 film Black Orpheus—a retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus and his attempt to bring his wife Eurydice back from the dead—the song “centres on an exquisite vocal performance from Crosby, who mines an entire world of emotion from each finely crafted lyric” (e.g., “I’m facing the squall line/Of a thousand year storm/I don’t know if I’m dying/Or about to be born”). “‘I Won’t Stay for Long’ is my favorite song on the record—I’ve listened to it 100 times now and it still reaches out and grabs me, it’s so painfully beautiful,” says Crosby. “I did end up getting a pretty stunning vocal on it, because it meant so much to me that I sang the hell out of it. One thing James and I both believe is that songs are an art form and a treasure—so when a song comes along that’s as good as that one, we’ll just give it everything we got.”