David Crosby always wanted to sing jazz, and he made some forays into jazzier territory even within The Byrds with songs like Mind Gardens, but has really only indulged this urge more fully within the most recent releases from the duo Crosby-Nash and, most completely, with his work with CPR. Sky Trails features the R of CPR – in the form of Crosby’s biological son James Raymond – across the album and as producer whilst the P – that’s Jeff Pevar – appears on one track. Perhaps unsurprisingly Sky Trails sounds quite CPR-ish. As a genre label jazz is, of course, somewhat like Americana in that it covers a wide swathe of musical styles and on She’s got to be Somewhere it’s a pretty funky blend whilst Amelia is an elegant piano piece with Joni Mitchell’s words and Crosby’s growling vocal. It makes perfect sense that Joni’s greatest fan would use this song full of airy imagery and the grasping at the straws of freedom, but the listener is likely to have a yearning to hear the original on Hejira. The lovely title track has Becca Stevens duetting with Crosby on a stream of consciousness that mixes love and guilt in equal measure.
Across the album there is a consistency of sound, despite being recorded with many musicians in many different studios, and this certainly reflects the producer’s hand on the tiller. Even with the variations in stylings on a song by song basis there’s a restraint to the sound – instrument solos are kept within bounds, not flowing free but sweeping on a more rigidly geometric plane. It’s cool, but summer breeze cool not wild and free and pushing the limits. It can be a pity as when a song requires a little more edge – such as the criticism of places, and by implication people, of power found in Capitol – the edge, the anger only comes through in Crosby’s vocal which has to contend with a sugar coated anger in the accompaniment. Sell Me a Diamond entwines the risk of unwittingly purchasing a blood stained beauty of a conflict gemstone with the smaller wars experienced within marriages. This is Crosby at his most though provoking.
Undeniably this release is to be welcomed – David Crosby’s late revival of interest in recording has led to three solo albums since 2014, and by the by has also seen The Croz return to a major label as a solo artist. No small achievement. Sky Trails may be his most commercial sounding recent release, but many long term listeners will likely hanker for a little more of that rock edge and undiluted anger, but for today this will more than do.
Sky Trails is a further stepping away from his previous letter permutation main bands, it’s Crosby’s voice and vision for 2017. Nods to Joni and smooth jazz with his son.