David Crosby: If I Could Only Remember My Name (1971)

Caught the recent David Crosby documentary on a flight last week (Remember My Name), quite excellent and moving; and it sent me back to check out Crosby's first solo album (and, indeed, only solo album for the next 18 years, as his well-documented drug problems limited his functioning).  And, yep, it's as great as I remembered it.  Probably the best solo album from anyone in CSN (and up there with plenty of releases by Mr. Y).

Now, of all the CSNY members, it's Crosby's contributions to the band I find most challenging.  Nash has some nice folky, poppy contributions; Stills can rock; and Young is... Neil.  But Crosby's songs are often just a little off, a bit discordant, not generally following your basic verse-chorus-verse formation; and his angelic vocals, while undeniably the prettiest in the band, can often blend into the instrumentation when not part of the unmatched harmonies that distinguish CSN (which isn't a bad thing, but makes the songs pop out a little less).

Here, though, these aspects work to his benefit, leading to an album that is, yes, awfully weird and sometimes spooky, but also absolutely beautiful and transfixing.  A few songs are the sort of lovely singer-songwriter pieces you'd expect of anyone in CSN, but most are on the jazzier, more exploratory side of the spectrum, bits of Tim Buckley and the more psychedelic Jefferson Airplane deep cuts.

He's aided throughout by an amazing cast, including Nash and Young, as well as Jerry Garcia lending guitars on multiple tracks (alongside other members of the Dead and the Airplane).

Opener "Music Is Love" has some sweet acoustic guitars and energetic, rough vocals, almost more like a Stills track than a Crosby tune.  Album stand-out "Laughing" is a gorgeous stunner, tremendous harmonies and jangly guitars (one of the few tunes here that would make it into the CSN setlist); the non-lyrical "Tamalpais High" is even prettier, soaring scat harmonies that sound like classic CSN, with a nice guitar jam at the end.  "What Are Their Names" starts with a Dead-like jam, evolving into an Airplane-like midtempo rocker (with Young's vocals dominating).  "Song With No Words" is a lengthy track (as the title indicates, without words), plenty of guitar and piano jamming, and Crosby scatting along.  "Orleans" is another gorgeous, harmonic, CSN-like piece.  

The one song that breaks the template is the extended "Cowboy Movie," a two-chord guitar vamp that rocks harder than anything else on the album; it's reminiscent of Young's "Down By The River," aggressive (perhaps verging on abrasive), though the jams are cool enough, making it better suited to live performance than the rest of the album, which is a lush studio work hard to replicate on stage.

The album was reissued a couple years back with magnificent sound.  It remains part of the vast CSN-related catalog that tends to be overlooked, yet it's a real gem.

Here's an audio rip of "Laughing":
Here's a live, jam-lover's take on "Cowboy Movie" from a couple years back.  (As the documentary emphasizes, the fact that Crosby still has that voice after all he's done to himself is an absolute miracle.)