It’s a conundrum from the classic rock artist who is still actively writing and recording: competing against your own past. After all, upon hearing that Graham Nash has a new solo record out, how many casual fans will be moved to get it…and how many will just purchase a copy of CSN’s Greatest Hits or download “Teach Your Children” or “Our House"?
But rarely has a current record by a legacy artist been so crystal clear about where said artist is at now in his life, his music and his worldview as Nash’s new This Path Tonight. And while he could have produced something akin to Songs for (New) Beginners or Wild Tales Today!, this effort is something different.
“One of the things that a good writer should be able to do is take something that happened to them and apply it to you,” Nash says of the album, which is colored by both his divorce from a wife of nearly four decades and a new love he’s found with Amy Grantham, who took all the photos for the packaging.
“I have to feel something first before I dare try and translate my feelings into music," he continues. "I have to feel very deeply about something, and I want it to feel as real as possible. And my life has changed.
“I was feeling all this as well as emotional changes from losing everyone from Bowie to Sir George Martin to Keith Emerson," Nash adds. "That’s why I started the album with the lyrics ‘Where are we going?’ [on the title track]. And I think I have the courage to follow my heart.”
And, Nash notes, even if you are madly in love with someone new, you don’t just fall into knowing everything about each other. “Living with someone is not a natural thing, I think!” he laughs. “You have to be compassionate about your partner’s needs and wants in every department and learn it. From how to cook eggs to sex!”
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In the ten tracks on the record, there is a lot of lyrical mention of paths and traveling and going places, as well as looking back at a life history and questioning where things are going. It may sound esoteric and heavy, but the mostly gentle-sounding tunes are full of vigor and an intellectual and physical curiosity.
Most were co-written with Shane Fontayne, a regular guitarist for Crosby, Stills and Nash, who also produced the effort. And in the lyrics to “Myself at Last,” the pair ponder, “And the day that breaks before me/ May never be surpassed/ And the question haunting me/ Is my future just my past?”
“That recording is the very first attempt at the very first song we tried. And Shane did a phenomenal job. It was like making music with myself in front of a mirror!” Nash laughs. “It would be uncomfortable to try and write with someone if we’re not on the same page, but it was effortless. We wrote 20 songs in a month. I’m going on an emotional journey. Want to go with me?”
As far that much-celebrated past with his collaborators David Crosby, Stephen Stills and (sometimes) Neil Young, not all is well among the often fractious four.
Crosby alienated Young — seemingly for good — when in late 2014 he called Young’s then-new girlfriend, actress Daryl Hannah, a “purely poisonous predator.”
Crosby was also reportedly put out by the characterization of him in Nash’s 2013 autobiography, Wild Tales. But for those immersed in CSNY history, Nash was, if anything, more charitable to Croz than readers might have expected.
All seemed copacetic with CSN and touring continued including their last stop in Houston in 2014 and more dates last year. And then in March of this year, Nash said this to Dutch magazine Lust for Life:
I don't like David Crosby right now. He's been awful for me the last two years, just fucking awful. I've been there and saved his fucking ass for 45 years, and he treated me like shit. You can't do that to me.
He later amplified to Billboard: “In my world there will never, ever be a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young record, and there will never be another Crosby, Stills & Nash record or show."
On This Path Tonight, Nash seems to bid farewell to the group in “Golden Days,” while also pondering his musical legacy when the music (and his life) eventually stops in “Encore.”
So as Nash focuses on his current solo tour, he will mix the CSN classics (Nash wrote most of the “hits”), a stray Hollies tune and material from the new record. He’s also looking forward to digging deeper into his catalog, throwing out titles like “Prison Song,” “You’ll Never Be the Same” and “On the Line,” all from 1974’s Wild Tales.
He will also likely whip out some of his more current political numbers, which he continues to write about events both current and historical. New songs “Mississippi Burning” concerns the 1964 slayings of civil-rights workers James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner, while “Watch Out For the Wind” tackles the 2014 Michael Brown killing in Ferguson, Missouri.
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They also consist of two of the three bonus tracks on some editions of This Path Tonight, as Nash says they didn’t fit with the main subject structure of the record. “Even if I disturb people, at least I’m getting my point across,” he says. “And they have the right to disagree, but it’s nice to think that my music gets people thinking.”
Finally, eagle-eyed liner note readers will notice a “special thanks” to Cass Elliot. For while the singer for the Mamas and the Papas died in 1974, her home had served as an amazing salon and meeting place for scores of musicians in the ‘60s and ‘70s, both famous and up-and-coming. And she was responsible for making personal introductions and connection-stoking that led directly to the formation of both the Lovin’ Spoonful and…Crosby, Stills & Nash.
“She was the Gertrude Stein of her generation. I have mentioned her somewhere on every album I’ve done since she died, whether in the liner notes or the credits or carefully hidden in the graphics,” Nash recalls warmly. “You wouldn’t even be talking to me if it wasn’t for Cass Elliot!”
Graham Nash performs at 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 4 at Stafford Centre, 10505 Cash Road in Stafford. Earlier in the day, he will appear at a free autograph session 1 p.m. Wednesday at Cactus Music, 2110 Portsmouth. For more information, visit grahamnash.com.