When you become a vegetarian, it takes a while to get used to meatless food. A tip: The recipes that work best are the ones that don't try to fool you into thinking there's meat in there among the lentils.
Inasmuch as Crosby, Stills, Nash and sometimes Young are seldom called "meaty," the subtraction of the group's more interesting members -- the sometimes cynical Stephen Stills and the fiery, hurt-voiced Neil Young -- leaves, well, something to get used to. But there are gentler pleasures to be had even in what David Crosby and Graham Nash are dishing up today.
Crosby and Nash have performed as a duo before, releasing several albums in the mid-'70s before the CSN trio re-formed. "Crosby-Nash" is their first album of original material since "Whistling Down the Wire" in 1976. Both of the Woodstock-era troubadours are over 60 now, so it's not surprising that their latest album -- 75 minutes of music on two discs -- collects songs of aging men who, if they squint, can see an ominous bend in the road up ahead.
There's refreshingly little rock-star posturing here, due mostly to the presence of lesser-known talents, prominent among them James Raymond, Crosby's son. It's Raymond -- also a member of the jazz-rock combo CPR with his dad and Jeff Pevar -- who sets the album's tone right up front with "Lay Me Down." Featuring a delicately brooding guitar line reminiscent of the one on "4+20" (from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's "Deja Vu" album), it's a rumination on mortality: When the duo offers modal harmonies on lines like "Lay me down in the river and wash this place away /Break me down like sand from a stone, maybe I'll be whole again one day," you can't help but think about Crosby's past: the liver disease, the legal run-ins and (a rare life-affirming tabloid tidbit) his status as celeb sperm donor.
The 12-step tendencies make themselves known again on "Puppeteer," another Raymond composition-cum-intervention ("You watch as your own hands reach for the nightstand for something to bring you down"), and Mark Cohn's "I Surrender," in which Nash is seeing something heavenly "in times of meditation" but ultimately seems to be giving himself over to the Higher Power of a lover. Either way, it's got nice bongos and a not-too-overbearing piano.
There's a lot of lite here: "Jesus of Rio" is a pleasant, blue-chorded look at the 100-foot statue of Christ in Brazil, penned by Nash and Pevar. But these guys are still at their best when they play like angry young men, faithful to Summer of Love styles even when the subject matter is contemporary, as on Crosby's anti-greed screed "They Want It All": "They want that Mercedes, the Gulfstream too, they want to get it -- get it from you." Disc 2 opener "Don't Dig Here" starts out with some promisingly funky guitar and a great metaphor, about hiding toxic waste, then lapses into sappy major chords and Johnnie Cochran rhymes in the chorus ("If you dig this mountain free and clear / There's much to fear"). The verses are great, though -- straight outta "Woodstock."
There's nothing wrong with "Crosby-Nash." No one embarrasses himself, and even the throwaways ("Milky Way Tonight") are AM-radio brief. And it's a fun album to analyze. It's just not very diverting to listen to. Then again, despite my shelf full of vegetarian cookbooks, I still prefer to cook with meat.
Crosby, Stills and Nash are scheduled to play Monday at Pier Six Concert Pavilion in Baltimore.