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Jackson Browne

The definition, nay epitome of laid back soft-rock, after the EAGLES added the “barnstorm”-ing JOE WALSH and ramped the amps on Hotel California. Singer-songwriter par excellence JACKSON BROWNE is a romantic at heart, devoting his craft for nigh-on half a century. Not only is he a renowned solo artiste, his songs have been covered by the cream of the crop, while his collaborative work, not least his long-time association with former KALEIDOSCOPE journeyman, DAVID LINDLEY, has added that certain panache and je ne sais quoi.
Born Clyde Jackson Browne, October 9, 1948 in Heidelberg, Germany, he was raised in the Highland Park district of L.A. since the age of three, after his army serviceman father (working for the Stars and Stripes journal) moved the family back to America. Graduating from Fullerton’s Sunny Hills High School in 1965, it freed up the budding singer-songwriter to expand his musical horizons. A move early the following year to Greenwich Village saw the teenager work in competition with songsmith buddies Greg Copeland and Steve Noonan, while an invitation to become a part of the enterprising bluegrass-folk revivalists, NITTY GRITTY DIRT BAND (albeit for several gigs inside a brief-ish timespan), gave him the necessary experience and confidence to seek out further opportunities; a handful of his songs – namely `Melissa’, `Holding’, `Shadow Dream Song’, `It’s Raining Here In Long Beach’ and `These Days’ – all appeared on NGDB albums of the late 60s.
More or less accompanying his own compositions on electric guitar (`The Fairest Of The Seasons’, `Somewhere There’s A Feather’ and a re-tread of `These Days’), Jackson was an integral part of then-girlfriend NICO’s post-VU debut set, Chelsea Girl. Another acquaintance of the songwriter was Pamela Polland, whose aptly-named duo, GENTLE SOUL, covered his unreleased `Flying Thing’, while work at Elektra Records’ Nina Music publishing branch led to support slots to the mighty TIM BUCKLEY. Probably exhausted from this frantic period of activity, Jackson retreated to Los Angeles, where he instigated a folk-styled solo outfit with the help of Ned Doheny and Jack Wilce. One imagines he could’ve quite happily lived off the royalties from those early songs (and others), which providing material for such luminaries as TOM RUSH, JOAN BAEZ, LINDA RONSTADT, GREGG ALLMAN, and of course, the EAGLES; he’d met GLENN FREY toward the turn of the 70s.
Moving along the corporate corridor to David Geffen’s fledgling Asylum Records in ‘71, his eponymous JACKSON BROWNE {*7} LP – subtitled “Saturate Before Using” – sold enough copies to register a Top 60 placing. Featuring such ubiquitous L.A. session men as Leland Sklar (bass), Russ Kunkel (drums), Craig Doerge (piano), Sneaky Pete Kleinow (slide), alongside such esteemed company as DAVID CROSBY, JESSE ED DAVIES, ALBERT LEE, Jim Fadden (of NGDB) and Clarence White (The BYRDS), the album established the gracious singer at the forefront of the navel-gazing Californian singer-songwriter scene. Unpretentious and romantically introspective, reviewers were not at first enamoured by its horizontal maturity, but in classic covers-to-be, `Jamaica Say You Will’ (for The BYRDS and JOE COCKER respectively), the Top 50 `Rock Me On The Water’ (for BREWER & SHIPLEY) and his own Top 10 smash, `Doctor My Eyes’ (for the JACKSON 5), he’d at least made his mark; incidentally, `Song For Adam’, was scribed in honour of his friend Adam Saylor, who died (possibly of suicide) in 1968.
BROWNE’s fragile melodies and bookish, confessional lyrics saw him adopted as a kind of genre figurehead. He garnering further kudos after co-penning the classic EAGLES track, `Take It Easy’. But while the aforementioned Frey and Co took that song’s philosophy to its ultimate conclusion, JB continued to analyse himself and his relationships on Top 50 sophomore set, FOR EVERYMAN (1973) {*8}. Self-produced and a meeting point for stars such as CROSBY, FREY, HENLEY, LINDLEY, BONNIE RAITT, JONI MITCHELL et al (plus ELTON JOHN in the guise of Rockaday Johnnie on sole minor hit, `Redneck Friend’), there was finally room for old masters `These Days’, `Take It Easy’, plus a title track in answer to CROSBY, STILLS and PAUL KANTNER’s Wooden Ships.
Submitting a more contemporary viewpoint, Top 20 album LATE FOR THE SKY (1974) {*9} dispensed with past glories and set about giving his long-time fans a fresh perspective on his usual suspects: love, loss, life and euphemistic apocalypse. Although it had no accompanying pop hits to speak of, the poignant poetry of the title track, plus the deep `For A Dancer’, `The Late Show’, `Fountain Of Sorrow’, `Before The Deluge’ et al, opened up the wounds of the human race intent on destroying love, nature and the world itself. Further commitments that year were completing in his production work on WARREN ZEVON’s 1975 debut set.
BROWNE was in the throes of getting back in the studio when tragedy struck. On March 25, 1976, his wife Phyllis, committed suicide, something that undoubtedly contributed to the bleak feel of THE PRETENDER (1976) {*6}, his first album to reach the Top 10. Produced by Jon Landau, it was understandably morose and melancholy at times. The hit song `Here Come Those Tears Again’ (featuring RAITT on harmony and ORLEANS guitarist John Hall), was in stark contrast to the title track, a sarcastic and cynical swipe at post-Watergate America.
The singer forged on, releasing a further concept-type set, RUNNING ON EMPTY (1977) {*6}, a record that comprised a hotchpotch of unreleased material and songs recorded on – and about life – on the road, albeit with one notable exception, a global hit version of MAURICE WILLIAMS’ `Stay’, remembered for the falsetto vox of Lindley. Much of a group effort comprising compositions from Kortchmar and Co, and even an appropriate cover of DANNY O’KEEFE’s `The Road’ (not forgetting the title track smash), life was certainly not one big party for Jackson.
His popularity had been steadily increasing as the decade wore on and BROWNE finally topped the American charts in summer 1980 with the HOLD OUT {*5} album. However, at a time when “rock” music had moved forward with the advent of new wave, JB and his disciples were fundamentally stuck in a time-warp that he couldn’t quite shake off. Both `Boulevard’ and `That Girl Could Sing’, hovered in and around the Top 20, but really, compared to his early 70s work(s), the man was becoming a parody of himself. FM-friendly to the point of pre-MTV saturation, the Fast Times At Ridgmont High movie soundtrack in ’82 was a perfect vehicle for a version of `Somebody’s Baby’ to hit the Top 10; the B-side incidentally, was a cover of the trad `The Crow On The Cradle’, billed alongside GRAHAM NASH and DAVID LINDLEY.
The new decade saw BROWNE becoming increasingly politically active and outspoken on such controversial issues as nuclear power and US foreign policy. Inevitably, this was reflected in the man’s writing. 1983’s Top 10 LAWYERS IN LOVE {*5} marked a move away from the personal towards the socially conscious, but in the title track, plus other attendant volleys, `Tender Is The Night’ and `For A Rocker’, desperation was hardly a substitute word for ambition. The media and MTV probably played a role in promoting his next Top 20 stop-gap, when he was billed (alongside then-girlfriend Daryl Hannah) on the SPRINGSTEEN-associated CLARENCE CLEMONS platter, `You’re A Friend Of Mine’.
Subsequent politicised sets, LIVES IN THE BALANCE (1986) {*6} – featuring lone hit `For America’ (plus the fragile `In The Shape Of A Heart’) – and WORLD IN MOTION (1989) {*4}, were relative commercial failures; some sections of BROWNE’s fanbase perhaps not impressed with his liberal convictions.
With a star cast including CROSBY, JENNIFER WARNES, DON HENLEY and long-time collaborator LINDLEY, Jackson returned to more personal fare on 1993’s I’M ALIVE {*5}. While he might not have enjoyed the critical and commercial plaudits of his 70s heyday, the singer retained a loyal following, even in Britain, where he made a rare appearance, headlining the subsequent 1997 Cambridge Folk Festival. Coming on the back of 1996’s LOOKING EAST {*5}, respect from the public had not quite subsided.
With his first album of the new millennium, THE NAKED RIDE HOME (2002) {*5}, the ageing songwriter was still picking apart the increasingly perilous state of his homeland, a subject which seemed to propel his muse more effectively than most. Musically, there were no great surprises, in itself perhaps a relief given the ill-advised experimentation of some of his contemporaries.
With no new material in the offing, BROWNE kept his name on the chart listings via a “Very Best Of…” set in 2004, and also a live “unplugged” round-up by way of SOLO ACOUSTIC VOL.1 (2005) {*6}. In layman’s terms a tad same-old/same-old, a belated 2008 follow-up, SOLO ACOUSTIC VOL.2 {*6} hardly stretched Jackson’s prowess, but with SPRINGSTEEN singing his praises via a previous Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, who could argue that BROWNE had already proved his worth, how ever many years ago.
TIME THE CONQUEROR (2008) {*5} signalled a return to his political idealism, posting an enlightened swerve back to times when the assassinations of both the Kennedys and Martin Luther King (`Off To Wonderland’) shocked America and the rest of the world. Sadly, with his contemporary soft-rock nuances, his message would at times fall on deaf ears, when his harder-edged rock cousins could manage similar indictments in full-blown angst and revelry.
Inevitably, after decades of a partnership made in musical purgatory, heaven granted the pairing of BROWNE and LINDLEY at least one joint effort together: LOVE IS STRANGE: EN VIVO CON TINO (2010) {*7}. While many journos would assimilate with David’s plethoric past via session work and solo sets (example `El Rayo X’), flamenco percussionist-cum-producer Tino di Geraldo (and a host of Spanish musicians) gave the artistes a chance to shine. The fact that it was recorded in concert three or four years ago, the fresh arrangements of Jackson’s back catalogue, still gleaned worthy sales figures; no doubt enamoured by the re-boots of `Take It Easy’, `These Days’, `Running On Empty’ and a Celtic-esque `The Next Voice You Hear’.
Featuring the accompaniment of only guitarists Greg Leisz and Val McCallum, alongside his usual array of session players, 2014’s STANDING IN THE BREACH {*7} was Jackson’s hark back to a songwriting template that saw the likes of socio-political The Pretender produce results. From an Everyman perspective, JB embellished his worldly concerns with sentimental topics, while one song in particular (`The Birds Of St. Marks’) finally received a proper studio treatment having only been heard live intermittently from its conception in 1967. Of the couple of covers, namely country-er renditions of WOODY GUTHRIE’s `You Know The Night’ and CARLOS VARELA’s `Las Paredes y Puertas’ (now as `Walls And Doors’), an introspective Jackson was, as always, nostalgic, irrepressible and intimate on his own `Which Side?’, `If I Could Be Anywhere’ and the title track.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Oct2014

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