Many established artists, as their careers slide into semi-obscurity,
make a tragic mistake. Somehow, inexplicably, the recording studio
and the need to innovate become more important than the songs
themselves. Glitzy production obscures songs, even great songs,
and weighs them down so they're hardly recognizable.
Jackson Browne, after releasing a string of seminal albums
in the 1970s, found multi-platinum success with 1977's Running
On Empty. The title proved apt, and Browne's records have
been riddled with questionable production ever since, stifling
even his best melodies and lyrics.
In a situation like this, an acoustic live album would seem the
perfect tonic. Browne's newest album, Solo Acoustic Vol. 1,
is just that: a career-spanning collection of standards and half-forgotten
gems that melt together so cohesively that it isn't unreasonable
to call this his best album in nearly three decades.
On his earliest records, Browne rattled off ruminations on life,
love, and loss that echoed truths a young man shouldn't have had
access to. He was so precocious that, as he tells the audience during
the spoken introduction to the song, he wrote the first version
of "These Days" when he was 16. Four decades later, the
song's spare poetry is as rich in meaning as when the song was first
The performances on Solo Acoustic, each accompanied by either
Browne's guitar or piano, are subtle and affecting. Browne's vocals
have aged well, and what grit has crept into his voice adds a
new dimension even to the classics. Older tracks like "For
Everyman" and "Your Bright Baby Blues" were well-produced,
but these performances have an emotional weight missing from the
originals. The newer songs, many of which had been lost on cluttered
studio albums, breathe much more easily here.
Although it does offer a snapshot of his body of work, this is
not a greatest hits album. The disc does feature a few hits, but
consists mostly of fan favorites and a handful of overlooked tracks
from his more recent work. Browne even grants a request for "The
Birds Of St. Marks," a rarity he never released on a studio
album. The majestic ballad is a highlight, and proof of the depth
of Browne's catalog.
Browne also offers political material, highlighted by the scathing
1986 track "Lives In The Balance." The words to the
Reagan-era anthem are eerily relevant to today's political turmoil:
"I want to know who the men in the shadows are / I want to
hear somebody asking them why / They can be counted on to tell
us who our enemies are/ but they're never the ones to fight or
to die." There is no doubt the plea is genuine.
Browne's rapport with his audience adds to the intimacy of these
performances. Speaking as if he were at a family gathering, he
shares jokes, stories, and fragments of political commentary.
The record is a document of one of our treasured songwriters rediscovering
the purity of his songs. If Browne's records had become muddied
by excess, he found the answer on Solo Acoustic.
1. The Barricades Of Heaven
3. These Days
5. The Birds Of St. Marks
7. Fountain Of Sorrow
8. Your Bright Baby Blues
9. For A Dancer
10. Too Many Angels
12. For Everyman
14. Lives In The Balance
16. Looking East
18. The Pretender
Take It Easy
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