Life is an unpredictable journey whose path can lead you into places that you never thought you’d end up. What’s the old saying: If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans? It’s almost certain that a few years ago, the idea that vaunted ‘60s singer-songwriter Graham Nash would have ended his decades-long marriage and scuttled his extremely lucrative partnership with David Crosby and Stephen Stills to embark on a renewed solo career with a fresh love interest would have probably seemed preposterous. And yet here we are.
For his first solo album in 14 years, Nash mines a trio of themes that have sustained a majority of writers throughout history: love, loss, and finality. At 74 years old, the former Hollies singer offers a unique perspective on all three, a view that rarely gets explored by din of the fact that there just aren’t many people his age writing up to the same level of viable music. Young love is a topic that has been covered a million times throughout the years, but what’s it like to discover love anew in the twilight of your life? How, as a person, do you change through the passage of time? How do your desires and goals shift, alter, and morph?
The really interesting thing is that Nash doesn’t seem to have any answers, but instead relishes the questions themselves. On the title track and album opener he acknowledges that he doesn’t know where he’s going in this life anymore, but feels compelled to keep moving forward regardless. He parries each of the larger questions above with a series of questions of his own. “I try to answer all that’s asked/ I try my best to be myself, but wonder who’s behind this mask.”
Alternately on “Myself at Last”, a treacly ballad which he’s publicly dedicated to his new girlfriend, Nash seems plainly overjoyed to have shifted off the road he’d been traveling down into new, exhilarating directions. “It’s so hard to fight the past,” he admits, “but the day that breaks before me may never be surpassed.” Having spent the last decade as the nominal caretaker for the legacy of Crosby, Stills, Nash and sometimes Young, Nash has been mired in the subject his own past, and it sounds like he’s delighted to finally put all of that behind him and instead look forward. “The question haunting me/ Is my future just my past?” The answer on this song at least appears to be a resounding no.
One thing time hasn’t seemed to have affected is Nash’s singing voice. It’s absolutely incredible how fresh and similar it sounds to that high, crisp register present on earlier hit songs like “Marrakesh Express”, “Carry On”, or “Our House”. While other artists of his generation are forced to drop keys or modify their entire approach to singing and writing, Nash remains completely free to be the same artist that he’s always been. It’s truly a gift, and one that isn’t squandered.
This Path Tonight is almost completely made up of acoustic arrangements. There are certainly keyboard accents and electric guitar lines thrown in here and there to keep things interesting, but the compositions are startlingly simple. This is a no-frills type of record that prizes style over substance. If there is any kind of solo, like the acoustic piece near the end of “Cracks in the City” or the harmonica tangent on “Target”, it’s kept short, and done tastefully. The bombastic chorus of “Fire Down Below” is the lone — and most welcome — exception to this rule.
It’s been quite a while since Nash has released a collection of new material — even the last Crosby, Stills & Nash record came out in 1999. The past decade has found the singer seemingly going through the motions, hitting the road, playing the hits, writing a memoir, digging out old tapes, and generally moving laterally. The act of breaking that particular cycle almost certainly has to be a thrilling proposition no matter how you cut it, and if you were to use one word to describe the figure you hear on This Path Tonight, that word would be “unburdened.”
Essential Tracks: “This Path Tonight”, “Fire Down Below”