CPR

Live at the Wiltern

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CPR released as their second record an equally excellent two-CD live concert recorded in November 1998 at Los Angeles' Wiltern Theatre. In his liner notes, Samson Records owner Norman Waitt, Jr. refers to the palpable joy that emanated from the stage that night, and most of that joy translates to this almost celebratory-like recording as well. David Crosby is in excellent voice here, perhaps the best he had sounded since his '60s and '70s heyday; still choirboy sweet, but not without the world-weariness that comes with the rocky life he had lived up to that point. Some of the magic trippiness of bygone days is missing, but the melodic complexity of the band's compositions makes that excusable, as does their gorgeous harmonies and playing capabilities. Crosby's son, keyboardist/vocalist James Raymond, has a voice strikingly similar to his father's, and his song "One for Every Moment" is a highlight of the first CD. The disc is wholly stellar, though, mostly featuring strong versions of songs off the band's debut album. They don't deviate a great deal from the studio versions, but songs such as "Little Blind Fish" and the Stephen Stills-like rocker "It's All Coming Back" take on a certain immediacy in the live setting. There is some truly excellent guitar work throughout the album by third member Jeff Pevar, particularly his intricate acoustic picking on his own "Little Blind Fish," and on the long instrumental sections of Crosby's "Déjà Vu." Some of the covers of old CSNY and Byrds material that fill that disc are a bit more problematic. CPR's renditions are always expertly played, but they range from sensational, at best, to troublesome. It's not that "Eight Miles High" is necessarily an untouchable landmark, it's that live CPR are a precise, sophisticated, workmanlike band -- far closer to Steely Dan than the Byrds -- and they cannot capture the kaleidoscopic cast or ragged spontaneity that has made the song such a brilliant pop anthem. Similarly, they polish the subversive hippie edge off "Long Time Gone." On the other hand, they give "Ohio" a scintillating go, losing some of the tribal, anthemic power that it had in 1970 but ably maintaining its intensity. The nicest surprise of the second disc, however, is an entirely new Crosby composition, "Dream for Him," written for new son Django (and recorded the next year on the third CSNY studio album Looking Forward). On it, Crosby seems shaken by uncertainty, and yet the song retains all the underlying idealism his music has always had. Just as that song does on fatherhood, Live at the Wiltern pulls the curtain back on a truly superior band.

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