Of the members of archetypal hippie supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash and (occasionally) Young, Graham Nash was always the least interesting. David Crosby’s social consciousness led to great lyrics such as ‘Long Time Gone’ and ‘Almost Cut My Hair’, as well as the intricately beautiful ‘Déjà Vu’; Stephen Stills played nearly all of the instrumental parts on the band’s first album, essentially creating the folk-rock sound that was to become so influential; and Neil Young, a force to be reckoned with in any setting, was the group’s most exciting member, the harshness of both his voice and his faithful Gibson Les Paul ‘Old Black’ a welcome contrast to the sweet vocal harmonies and acoustic interplay provided by the rest of the band. Unfortunately, despite a few good songs, This Path Tonight, Nash’s first original record in fourteen years, by and large continues this trend.
Thematically, the album’s preoccupations are clear, and perhaps to be expected given Nash’s recent divorce from his wife of 38 years: the passage of time, the ending of things, the question of what to do next – as Nash sings on ‘Myself At Last’, ‘Is my future just my past?’ The album starts off well with the title cut, an anxious ode to the kind of lack of direction one might expect from a far younger voice. And it’s the age of that voice that is part of the problem; Nash’s defining characteristic has always been his ethereal tenor voice, and now that it’s been rather roughened by age, some of the magic has gone. That would be more than fine if the songwriting had enough chops to make up for it, but, sad to say, it’s not to be.
The songs I enjoyed the most on the album (‘This Path Tonight’, ‘Fire Down Below’, ‘Back Home’) were those that sounded the least like Graham Nash: the ones with strong, drum-propelled rhythms and prominent electric guitar. The album’s acoustic tracks have neither the lyrical interest nor the complexity in picking pattern to avoid being saccharine. The exception, perhaps, is ‘Golden Days’, a beautifully nostalgic piece that, pleasing as it is, really highlights the problem with this album. ‘I used to be in a band/Made up of all my friends’, Nash sings, a line all the sadder after fifty years worth of squabbles have driven wedges between CSNY, to the extent that Nash himself has ruled out a reunion, saying to Billboard that ‘Right now, I don’t want anything to do with Crosby at all. It’s just that simple. 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.’
Although it’s always sad when once-great artists (or at least, artists who have contributed to greatness) fall off in quality, the one bright spot is that the new doesn’t overwrite the old. Give This Path Tonight a spin if you’re curious, but then listen to Crosby, Stills & Nash, listen to Déjà Vu, listen to the fantastic live album 4 Way Street – better records all, and ones that evoke an age when, to quote ‘Golden Days’ once more, ‘Oh, I know/That people hurt/But they tried to find a way/Through those broken days.’