Sunday, September 13, 2015

David Crosby and Graham Nash - Wind On the Water (1975)

After disastrous attempts at another Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young album - before and after the quartet's lucrative 1974 stadium tour - David Crosby and Graham Nash had had enough with Stephen Stills and Neil Young for awhile and concentrated on working together as a duo.  The tension between the pair and the Stills-Young half of the group, coupled with the disillusionment brought on by middle age and the dead dreams of the sixties, produced an album in 1975 that no one - probably not even Crsoby and Nash themselves - could have expected.
Issued on ABC Records, Wind On the Water came three years after the duo's spotty 1972 Atlantic album, which had bright harmonies and competent folk-rock arrangements but few songs of any distinction.  Critics and fans could be forgiven for lowering their expectations toward this second Crosby-Nash effort, but they were in for a surprise.  Wind On the Water features some dark, probing songs about decline and death, alternating between Crosby's pensive blues numbers and Nash's biting rockers.  The harmonies are still there, but there is a sense of resignation and dread in them.  David Crosby has publicly stated that he and Nash deliberately tried for a different sound from what they got with Stephen Stills and/or Neil Young to avoid comparisons with the larger group; this record may be about as close as the pair ever came to that goal.
Crosby's compositions are mostly slow-tempo songs, but the sorrow in his singing is anything but soft, as evidenced by "Carry Me," the opening cut.  The song, primarily about the death of his mother, enunciates the pain of a man trying to figure out where belongs; the guitar that anchors the song - courtesy of James Taylor - is quiet but not soothing.  Crosby's attempts to find his own way are documented in the haunting imagery of "Bittersweet," with its dark piano and strong rhythmic undercurrent, while "Homeward Through the Haze," with a blues guitar solo that pushes through the atmosphere like an ax through brush, makes it clear that finding the way has become harder to do.  Both tunes benefit greatly from some soulful keyboard work from Carole King - organ on the former, piano on the latter.  Some of Nash's tunes border on heavy, blistering rock, from the evocative poetry of "Mama Lion," with its piercing and foreboding guitars, to "Love Work Out," an iron fist of defiance that Nash doesn't bother gloving.   Nash, like Crosby, sees decay all around him - his paean to migrant farm workers, "Fieldworker," mourns the crops dying in the irrigated soil as much as the migrants - and he allows himself only a fleeting moment of bliss, the lovely country waltz "Cowboy of Dreams" (inspired by Neil Young).      
Besides help from Taylor and King, the duo get plenty of solid support from a strong collection of LA session men such as keyboardist Carig Doerge and drummer Russ Kunkel, as well as the Band's Levon Helm (who plays drums on "Fieldworker") and Jackson Browne (who provides a third harmony vocal on "Love Work Out").  It's still Crosby's and Nash's record, their songs differing in tone and viewpoint but sharing a common vision.  Ironically, they only co-wrote two of the LP's songs together. While their "Naked In the Rain" is the LP's weakest song, with interesting but underdeveloped imagery, the closing cut, "To the Last Whale . . . " is majestic.  A medley of Crosby's vocal work "Crtical Mass" with Nash's "Wind On the Water," the a capella chanting melds into a commanding orchestral arrangement backing Nash's funereal piano and the duo's lament of the killing of marine mammals.  While Crosby and Nash (with help from James Taylor again) are ostensibly singing about whales, they're really singing about all humanity and whether it too will live.
"The way I live determines the way my people survive," the pair sang in "Cowboy of Dreams."  In 1975, Crosby and Nash were determined to survive no matter what.  And while it's tempting to wonder whether this could have been a better album with Stephen Stills participating - some of Stills's songs about coming of age and raising a family that appeared on his 1975 Columbia solo album (more of which at another time) could have fit nicely here - Wind On the Water convincingly makes the argument that Crosby and Nash, having been thought to be the George and Ringo of CSNY, can stand, and survive, on their own.    

No comments: