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Jackson Browne
Solo Acoustic Vol.1
Inside Recordings

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 recorded.

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.

-Dan Warren

Track Listing:
1. The Barricades Of Heaven
2. Intro
3. These Days
4. Intro
5. The Birds Of St. Marks
6. Intro
7. Fountain Of Sorrow
8. Your Bright Baby Blues
9. For A Dancer
10. Too Many Angels
11. Intro
12. For Everyman
13. Intro
14. Lives In The Balance
15. Intro
16. Looking East
17. Intro
18. The Pretender
19. Intro
Take It Easy

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