Wednesday, March 14, 2012

David Crosby 1: If I Could Only Remember My Name

In the equation of CSN, Graham Nash was the pop, Stephen Stills was the rock, and David Crosby filled in the spaces between. The big guy didn’t always write songs as straightforward as his mates; even as far back as the Byrds his stuff tended to defy structure. So what ended up becoming his first and, for a long while, only solo album came not from having a stockpile of material so much as hanging out with various members of the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Santana in an open-studio policy. As it happened, the loose atmosphere managed to coalesce on a bunch of feels and extended jams, overlapping with other Airplane and Dead side projects.
While Stills’s album used other people to bolster his own one-man band tracks, Crosby went the other way, and it can be argued that most of the tracks on If I Could Only Remember My Name… could be just as easily credited to the players more so than the guy whose name was on the spine.
He did just that with the opening track, a simple strum around the idea that “Music Is Love”, which was subsequently hijacked by Graham Nash and Neil Young into more of a production. It sputters out almost as smoothly as it started. “Cowboy Movie” is basically Crosby backed by the Dead, stomping a “Down By The River”-style riff for eight minutes over an allegorical tale about how Rita Coolidge split up CSN with lots of lead from Jerry Garcia. More of a mood piece is “Tamalpais High (About 3)”, wherein Garcia faces up against Jorma Kaukonen over layered Crosby harmonies. The Dead rhythm section also anchors the mesmerizing “Laughing”, built around a slow narrative and climbing guitar, culminating in Sweet Joni Mitchell twittering above Garcia’s pedal steel.
Side two begins with another “collaboration”. “What Are Their Names” is a loose jam credited to the players, the title arriving halfway through, chanted by a choir dominated by Grace Slick. “Traction In The Rain” is a much quieter protest song, soft and gentle. Another intricate alternate tuning provides the frame for “Song With No Words (Tree With No Leaves)”, a beautiful duet with Graham Nash that true to its title offers endless yet pristine variations on “wee-do-do-doot-dee” among its stanzas. The other guitars and rhythm section becomes almost opaque, and a lovely piano from Gregg Rolie dances around the vocalists. The song is an excellent setup for the remainder of the album, which only features Crosby’s own voice and some guitar. “Orleans” is an adaptation of some traditional song he heard, while “I’d Swear There Was Somebody Here” is a striking piece of work, his own wordless voice recorded six time and echoed into an ethereal, medieval, other-worldly cry from the soul.
While much of the album ends up being just jams, they do betray a certain structure, and the participants would insist that larger forces were at work. Upon first listen, If I Could Only Remember My Name… may seem like the aural equivalent of a crash pad, but its charms do emerge, creating a lovely lazy setting. What helps it succeed is that each side is pleasing enough on its own, so that it’s not out of the ordinary to listen to one several times in a row before flipping the record over. That’s helped it hold up for forty years, and the fact that it was recorded so well in the first place makes the current CD worthy of purchase. (It even has a bonus track, a mostly acoustic eight-minute ramble called “Kids & Dogs” that, while lovely, spoils the effect of “I’d Swear There Was Somebody Here”.)

David Crosby If I Could Only Remember My Name… (1971)—4
2006 remastered CD: same as 1971, plus 1 extra track

1 comment:

  1. This is the record I put on when I want to turn back the years and fall into a relaxed hippie vibe. And you're right, the fact that you can never get a handle on it makes it endlessly playable.