CK Retro Review: Late For The Sky by Jackson Browne

Did you ever wonder why the whole sensitive singer-songwriter genre seemed to ebb in the latter half of the 1970’s? Maybe it’s because Jackson Browne pretty much perfected the style in 1974 with Late For The Sky, an album which many feel today is the crowning achievement in Browne’s long and illustrious career. Here is a song-by-song review.

TWO STARS

8. “The Road And The Sky”- Browne often got hassled for not rocking out enough (he would rectify that later in his career), but, truth be told, this rocker, which sounds a little like “James Dean” by fellow West Coasters The Eagles, feels inconsequential next to all the epic songs around it.

THREE STARS

7. “Farther On”- This song meanders a bit, much like its protagonist. Still, it’s well-sung and expertly-played, even if it suffers in comparison to the similar-sounding title track.

6. “Walking Slow”- If there is a criticism you could make about Late For The Sky, it’s that it’s almost overbearingly serious. Luckily, this song comes around on Side Two to take the air out of the proceedings a tad. It’s got two good things going for it besides its light touch: An undeniably catchy, kicky chorus, and the fact that it’s one if the few rock songs to effectively utilize the jug as an instrument, which should count for something.

5. “The Late Show”- This is the most ambitious musical track on the album. The orchestral coda anticipates songs from The Eagles (“The Last Resort”) and Warren Zevon (“Desperadoes Under The Eaves”), proving again how the 70’s West Coast sound tended to filter through all the artists under that umbrella. Speaking of the Eagles, Don Henley is part of the all-star cast on backing vocals on this track, along with Dan Fogelberg and J.D. Souther.

FIVE STARS

4. “Fountain Of Sorrow”- Current buzz band Dawes have gotten a ton of mileage from songs that are clearly influenced by Browne, and this mid-tempo epic sounds like a template for Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith’s best work. Jackson takes a seemingly innocuous moment, in this case the narrator finding a old photograph of his former love, and builds from it a mountain of profound emotions and cutting observations. It’s important to note that the “Fountain Of Sorrow” is balanced with a “fountain of light,” so this song actually ends on a somewhat hopeful note.

3. “Before The Deluge”- Browne manages to cram a whole lot of stuff into this album-closing parable. The song is in part a criticism of his generation’s abandoning of their ideals to settle for the easy way out, the way they “exchanged love’s bright and fragile glow for the glitter and the rouge.” Yet it also leaves room for to voice environmental concerns. It’s also some of the most poetic lyric-writing Browne has ever done, and that’s saying something. Great way to finish out the album too: David Lindley fiddles as the world drowns.

2. “For A Dancer”- This is one of the most level-headed songs about death you’ll ever hear, and yet it still manages to touch your heart. The subject of Browne’s tribute is suitably honored, but the song’s message about living life instead of wasting time trying to figure out what it all means makes it through to anybody who hears it. Browne’s somber piano chords open up into something more positive by song’s end; as he sings, “Go on and make a joyful sound.”

1. “Late For The Sky”- This song works as a lament for a dying relationship, but it also sounds like the strangled cry of an entire sleeping generation unaware of how much time has passed while they’ve been in their stupor. Heck, it even managed to sum up the malaise of Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. Browne’s elongated vocal notes convey an almost unbearable longing, which is echoed by David Lindley’s mournful slide guitar lead. One of the signature songs of the entire decade.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia.)

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-Bruce-Springsteen-Finest/dp/1442230657

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-Bob-Dylan-Finest/dp/0810888238

http://www.amazon.com/Pump-Up-Elvis-Costellos-Songs-ebook/dp/B00BXLUFN2/ref=sr_1_3?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1411952501&sr=1-3&keywords=jim+beviglia

http://www.amazon.com/Breakdown-Tom-Pettys-Best-Songs-ebook/dp/B00C281ZB6/ref=sr_1_4?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1411952501&sr=1-4&keywords=jim+beviglia

http://www.amazon.com/No-Surprises-Radioheads-Best-Songs-ebook/dp/B00CEZ2A0M/ref=sr_1_6?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1411952501&sr=1-6&keywords=jim+beviglia

 

 

 

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CK Retro Review: For Everyman by Jackson Browne

Jackson Browne’s second studio album suffers a bit only in comparison to the albums immediately preceding and following it in Browne’s catalog (as would a vast majority of all albums ever made.) But while there may not be any stone-cold classics on 1973’s For Everyman, Browne was still writing consistently insightful and emotionally stirring songs which he performed with equal bits of humor and heart. Here is a song-by-song review.

TWO STARS

10. “Colors Of The Sun”- If there’s an overarching weakness to For Everyman, it’s that there are lots of wonderful moments but some of those moments are hidden on uneven songs. “Colors Of The Sun” suffers from this and doesn’t have enough of those moments to completely save it.

THREE STARS

9. “Our Lady Of The Well”- Browne wrote often about the topic of the way modern life tends to crush the beauty of nature, sometimes brilliantly (“Before The Deluge”, for one.) This early crack it is OK if a bit ponderous, although the instrumental coda at the end is lovely.

8. “Take It Easy”- It was only fair that Browne got to take a shot at this huge hit for The Eagles since he co-wrote it for Glenn Frey. He does it well enough and the song’s easygoing nature has always been hard to resist, but it fits Frey better than it fits him.

7. “I Thought I Was A Child”- The music is at its best on this track when it sticks to just piano and guitar; when the tempo kicks in from time to time, the magic dissipates just a bit, deadening the impact of one of the better sets of lyrics on the album.

6. “Sing My Songs To Me”- This is one of those songs where it doesn’t even seem to matter what Browne is singing because the combination of the wistful melody and his yearning vocal cast a spell that’s independent of everything else that’s happeninn. It’s also nifty how it fades into the closing track.

5. “Redneck Friend”- This one sunk as a single, perhaps because Browne’s sly humor when undetected. The recording sizzles thanks to Lindley’s slide being utilized for power instead of pathos for a change and Elton John providing some recklessly rocking piano. The innuendo suggests a sexual solution to the problems of the girl in the song, but what Browne is really advocating is for her to cut loose and not worry about either the consequences or what people might think.

FOUR STARS

4. “These Days”- Nico gave us an ethereal version and Gregg Allman offered probably the definitive vocal take on it. Browne’s own stab at his old-soul lyric is abetted by great session work from David Lindley, Jim Keltner, and others. “Don’t confront me with my failure/I had not forgotten them” is still one of the most bittersweet finishes to any self-searching song you’ll ever hear.

3. “Ready Or Not”- For Everyman might have been a bit of a sideways step after the wonderful debut album, but one area where Browne was fast improving was his ability to lighten up a little bit. The bewildered and bemused reaction of the hard-living narrator here is priceless, as an unwanted pregnancy goes from the thing he most feared to the thing that just might save his wayward life. Lindley’s electric fiddle carries the music weightlessly along to the surprisingly happy ending.

2. “For Everyman”- This song has always been a bit elusive, a kind of answer record to “Wooden Ships” by CSN that offers far more questions than answers. Which is Browne’s point, since those offering the answers can’t necessarily be trusted. By the same token,  he suggests that those who just yield to the oncoming darkness aren’t doing themselves any favors either. The only definitive stand he takes is to say that we should stick together, which would be a facile message in any other hands but here seems novel and infinitely wise.

1. “The Times You’ve Come”- Accompanied by tender guitar and Bonnie Raitt’s aching backing vocals, Browne surveys a broken relationship and decides it was worth all the pain and struggle. More importantly, he also realizes that it’s a battle he would fight all over again, because “the need for love will still remain.” We should all be so tempered and wise in the aftermath of a break-up, but that’s always been one of Browne’s greatest strengths as a songwriter.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia.)

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-Bruce-Springsteen-Finest/dp/1442230657

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-Bob-Dylan-Finest/dp/0810888238

http://www.amazon.com/Pump-Up-Elvis-Costellos-Songs-ebook/dp/B00BXLUFN2/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1411670265&sr=1-2

http://www.amazon.com/Breakdown-Tom-Pettys-Best-Songs-ebook/dp/B00C281ZB6/ref=sr_1_4?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1411670265&sr=1-4

http://www.amazon.com/No-Surprises-Radioheads-Best-Songs-ebook/dp/B00CEZ2A0M/ref=sr_1_5?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1411670265&sr=1-5

 


Wednesday Weeper of the Week: “Crying” by Roy Orbison

This is the first in my newest series, and the title pretty much says it all. Each Wednesday I want to take a look back at a song that absolutely breaks your heart in the best possible way. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been drawn to these types of songs, from the subtle to the obvious, from the stark to the lush.

For the longest time in my life, I identified with them because I thought I was doomed to suffer the same kind of torment that the singers were feeling for eternity, so they made me feel less alone. Yet now, as I’ve come to the most settled, happiest part of my life, I still gravitate toward these songs. Maybe I’m morbid. Or maybe I just like to feel the biggest emotions, even vicariously, and sorrow has always had a bit more heft than happiness, right?

Choosing the first song to highlight was a no-brainer, really. What else could it be? I mean, the title pretty much spells it out where this song is going to take you. Roy Orbison wrote it with his songwriting partner Joe Melson about an actual experience he had with an ex-girlfriend. Apparently he wanted to say hi to her and tell her how much she still meant to him, but he backed off and lived to regret it.

Now, a lot of us have probably had experiences like that, but there very few songs as masterful as “Crying” in the world. Part of that is the structure and arrangement conjured by Orbison and Melson. They were really doing ingenious stuff in 1961 that still stands out today. That tympani at the start is like the sound of the narrator’s heart pattering a bit faster after seeing the girl. Notice how the first chorus is in the doldrums, Roy singing about as low as he possibly could as he hits rock bottom.

As the song progresses, he doesn’t even try to hold back his emotion and starts hitting those notes that range somewhere between the highest note on the musical scale and Jupiter. Pay attention to the rhythm while all this is going on; it keeps changing wildly from that original patter to this strange, bolero-like march. It all sets you up for the showstopper, Orbison bellowing from the loneliest mountaintop to a world of souls who understand his pain and need him to express it for them because he’s the only one capable.

By the time the strings screech to a halt and Orbison’s final “youuuuuuuuuuuu” spends itself, it becomes clear that crying in this case doesn’t just mean emitting tears from ones eyes. It’s the act of opening up one’s heart and letting the contents spill out unchecked because feeling the pain is the only way to deal with it.

I plan on writing on a whole bunch of other weepers in this column from week to week, and some of them will come from Orbison, I’m sure, since he was the master. But I doubt I’ll ever write about a better combination of song and performance, nor will I find anything quite so emblematic of how a sad song can reach our hearts like nothing else besides heartbreak itself.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia.)

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-Bruce-Springsteen-Finest/dp/1442230657

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-Bob-Dylan-Finest/dp/0810888238

http://www.amazon.com/Pump-Up-Elvis-Costellos-Songs-ebook/dp/B00BXLUFN2/ref=sr_1_3?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1411582339&sr=1-3&keywords=jim+beviglia

http://www.amazon.com/Breakdown-Tom-Pettys-Best-Songs-ebook/dp/B00C281ZB6/ref=sr_1_5?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1411582339&sr=1-5&keywords=jim+beviglia

http://www.amazon.com/No-Surprises-Radioheads-Best-Songs-ebook/dp/B00CEZ2A0M/ref=sr_1_6?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1411582339&sr=1-6&keywords=jim+beviglia

 


No Touts This Week

While I’ve caught up on just about everything, I still have a ton of new music piling up that I haven’t listened to yet. So I need a bit more time to get a good bunch of touts for you. But stay tuned tomorrow as we kick off a new feature: The Wednesday Weeper of the Week. Come back and see what it’s all about and I think you’ll enjoy it. Until then, have a good one.


CK Retro Review: Jackson Browne by Jackson Browne

When Jackson Browne released his debut album in 1972, it seemed impossible to many fans that a new artist could arrive on the scene with an album full of songs so advanced and assured. Of course, Browne had been around for years performing and writing songs for others, but that still doesn’t mitigate the singular achievement of his debut (sometimes known as Saturate Before Using due to the cover.) In fact, you could make a fair case that it even outstrips any of his subsequent albums (close, but not quite all of them.) Here is a song-by-song review:

TWO STARS

10. “Under The Falling Sky”- He would eventually figure out how to lighten the mood on his albums and still sound convincing. Not yet though, as this change of pace is a bit jarring.

THREE STARS

9. “A Child In These Hills”- Leaving home isn’t easy, even when you make the conscious choice to do so. That’s the gist of Browne’s plaint here, which is a little limp musically even if the questions it asks can’t help but resonate with anyone who’s ever been in the same boat.

8. “Something Fine”- This pretty bit of wistful folk that features typically effortless Browne lyrics about missing Morocco or at least the feelings (or the girl) associated with it. Nicely understated.

FOUR STARS

7. “Rock Me On The Water”- Even at this early point in his career, Browne’s Rolodex contained the best of the best of the West Coast’s musicians. Those connections really pay off on songs like this, which builds from a piano intro into something fuller and more resounding. This is California gospel, and it’s more honest in its way than if he had been accompanied by choirs and church organs and the obvious signifiers.

6. “From Silver Lake”- Some guys get everything. In addition to being blessed with ridiculous songwriting skills, Browne owns a voice of chill-inducing clarity. He understood how to show it off too, as he demonstrates here in this bittersweet ode to wanderlust, holding those vowels for bar after bar until every last bit of emotion has dripped from them.

5. “Doctor My Eyes”- Oh yeah, the dude could turn out hit songs too. Even though this song depicts a character who feels way too much about everything and has to see a shrink to cope with it all, the jauntiness of the music keeps things upbeat enough for the Top 10. Early proof that Browne could be just as affecting when he was shooting for efficiency instead of breadth with his lyrics.

4. “Song For Adam”- You hear the adjective “clear-eyed” a lot when people describe Browne’s work, and it’s probably because of songs like these. The death of a friend, most likely by suicide, would be cause for lesser songwriters to rend their garments and pay maudlin tribute. Browne spends the song subtly trying to make sense of it all even as he concedes he never will. He leaves the sorrow to David Campbell’s viola part, which wends it way through in touching fashion.

FIVE STARS

3. “Jamaica Say You Will”- In the very first song on his very first album, Browne had already nailed down the template that has captivated audiences for over four decades: Singing deeply-felt lyrics over delicate instrumentation about lost love. That makes it sound simple, I know, which it clearly isn’t, or else we’d have a lot more almost eerily perfect songs like this one floating around. The way Browne hints at the girl’s eventual departure in the first two verses before she surprises him by actually leaving in the last speaks movingly to the blinders we tend to wear when a relationship is going so well.

2. “Looking Into You”- Browne also shows he can pull off a flat-out love song without getting mushy. He does it here by keeping the music somewhat somber to provide a balance and by diverting our attention with the narrator’s seemingly endless quest to find some sort of safe harbor in the stormy seas of his life. That sets us up for the poetic potency of his discovery: “Now here I stand at the edge of my embattled illusions/Looking into you.”

1. “My Opening Farewell”- Perhaps the topic that Browne has always been best at illuminating is the landscape of a crumbling relationship, that mystifying conundrum of how we can be aware of what’s going wrong and yet are still powerless to stop it. This earliest incarnation of his thesis on the subject is still one of his finest, abetted by sympathetic instrumentation and a melody that allows him to start in the doldrums, rise with anguish, and then sink back down again into painful resignation that the end is only a falling tear away.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia.)

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-Bruce-Springsteen-Finest/dp/1442230657

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-Bob-Dylan-Finest/dp/0810888238

http://www.amazon.com/Pump-Up-Elvis-Costellos-Songs-ebook/dp/B00BXLUFN2/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1411408877&sr=1-3&keywords=jim+beviglia

http://www.amazon.com/Breakdown-Tom-Pettys-Best-Songs-ebook/dp/B00C281ZB6/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1411408877&sr=1-5&keywords=jim+beviglia

http://www.amazon.com/No-Surprises-Radioheads-Best-Songs-ebook/dp/B00CEZ2A0M/ref=sr_1_6?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1411408877&sr=1-6&keywords=jim+beviglia


Checking In

Hello all. I know it’s been a while, but I have a good excuse, better than just flat-out laziness. After getting married in July, my wife and I have been renovating our house and tried to do it all before a family party that we had at the house last weekend. As anyone who’s done this kind of thing knows, it’s mass chaos, and the fact that we squeezed most of it into a small window made it even more of a circus. So anything other than my assigned writing was put on the back burner for the most part.

The good news is that I’m coming out of it now and should have time to rev the blog back up again, which I’m going to try and do on Monday with the start of another Retro Review series. That should be fun. I’m also going to get the Tuesday Touts up and going again and I have a fun idea for some posts on Wednesdays that you guys and gals will enjoy. So most weeks we could be talking about four posts per week, which is my way of thanking you folks that have stuck with me since the beginning.

In other news, I am participating in a really special event this weekend which maybe some of you in the Jersey area can check out. It’s called the Fifty Years Forum and it’s being presented by the Friends of the Bruce Springsteen Special Collection, which is a mass assemblage of Springsteen memorabilia. The forum, which takes place at Wilson Hall on the campus of Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey, will feature panel discussions on various aspects of Springsteen’s work. Yours truly is a panelist for a 10 AM ET panel on Springsteen’s finest songs (can’t imagine why they chose me for that one.) The thing runs from about 9:30AM to 3:30 PM and seats are still available for those who want to walk up. It should be a lot of fun.

I’d also like to thank those of you who have purchased my books and e-books; much appreciated. If you have the time and inclination and want to go the extra mile to help me out, a review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or the site of your choosing would be really helpful.

So I hope to talk to you all again next week. Thanks for populating the site in the meantime even when no new content was forthcoming. I promise that will all be changing soon.

CK