Diary of a Madman

David Crosby – Thousand Roads (1993)

I’m listening to the album Thousand Roads by David Crosby released in 1993. This is such a sleeper. From the opening track “Hero” featuring Phil Collins as both performer, co-writer and producer to the final track “Natalie” written by the very talented Stephen Bishop, this album is filled with interesting songs. David Crosby isn’t much of a songwriter himself, in my opinion, but he really shines when gifted with, and projecting, the talent of others with his beautiful voice and the songs on this album is mostly by other songwriters. The production is pretty solid and contains several of the classic early 90s treats that I love and the liner notes reads like a who’s who in the music industry at the time. It’s very interesting to me how the songs that were “donated” all saw a release by the original writer soon after the release of Thousand Roads, like “Yvette in English”, which I’m assuming was mostly written by Joni Mitchell but is credited with Crosby as co-writer, being released on Joni’s Turbulent Indigo in 1994. One of the few exceptions where the original writer’s version is vastly better than Crosby’s. The production on Turbulent Indigo is incredible, and even though I love David’s voice, nothing beats Joni Mitchell.. absolutely nothing!
“Too Young to Die” written by Jimmy Webb was released on his album Suspending Disbelief  in September ’93, only a few months after Thousand Roads. I much prefer Crosby’s version of this song and it’s actually not because Michael Landau plays guitar on that track. Nope, it just has so much more vibe. Webb’s version is much more of a rocker anthem vibe, but it falls short and he wants too much without being able to bring it. The guitar solo on Jimmy’s version is amazing (Steve Lukather) and the production is big and bold, but I just can’t gel with the vocals. David’s version on the other hand gives me shivers when I hear it and it’s spooky how close this track sounds to some of Ryan Adams’ work. Makes me think that young Adams really, and I mean really, studied and almost tried to copy Crosby.
“Old Soldier” is a Marc Cohn song (the Walking in Memphis guy) and a highlight on the album for me personally. Marc released the song as a B-side to the single Paper Walls off of his 1993 record The Rainy Season, but David’s version is better. Again, the vibe is just there and Crosby’s vocals really fit the song. He sounds like he is the character speaking where Cohn sounds more like a storyteller singing about the character. That being said, Marc Cohn is a great singer with a fabulous voice. The acoustic steelstring and piano in the intro sounds especially sweet, triggering memories of the incredible vibe of James Taylor’s Squibnocket sessions. Also, holding off on the harmonica until later in the song is a winning move on David’s version.
Another highlight for me is “Through Your Hands” originally recorded and released by John Hiatt on his 1990 album Stolen Moments. Again, I prefer Crosby’s version. The subtle lead work done by Michael Landau on Hiatt’s original is incredibly tasteful, but the droning tremolo guitar just ruins that version for me. The more acoustic oriented version on Thousand Roads sounds more pleasing to me.
The title track on the album is credited with David Crosby as sole writer and is one of the few weak jams on this LP. It would sound more in place on a different record. I can’t stand badly sounding overdriven guitars and that alone ruins this one for me. (I say badly “sounding” instead of badly recorded because most likely, based on the personell involved, this sound is what they were going for… yikes.) It’s not as bad as the king of’em all, “Thrill of the Kill” from the incredible Read My Lips (1984) by Fee Waybill which I think coined the term “swarm of bees”, but that’s an extreme example. Although, as I write this and listen back to the track “Thousand Roads” again, it might be just as much the playing style that puts me off as the sound. Some might call it a masterpiece, but I usually skip this one.
The remaining four songs are all pretty good, but not quite up there with the first half, with “Helpless Heart” written by Paul Brady, originally released on Paul’s True for You (1983), being the slightly favorable. And again, David’s version is better in my opinion. I’m not a huge fan of Brady’s voice, but he’s a good songwriter. Educated guitarists will probably be familiar with Paul’s 1991 release Trick or Treat which feature some killer work by Michael Landau.

So, all in all a solid album if you ask me. I find it intriguing to think about how the songs were picked and what the process was regarding the songs that were “donated” in lack of a better words. It’s not often you see several tracks by other established songwriters featured on a friends album and then being released on their own records just a few months later. I’ve been speculating if they were just doing David a solid based on his situation with recent jail time, health, drugs etc. I dunno. Most likely it was just friends being friends I guess., “Here, I’ll sing on your record and you play on mine.” Whatever it was, it ended up being a very sweet collection of songs and an album that I spin quite regularly.

By Fuzzy B.
Diary of a Madman