CK Retro Review: Late For The Sky by Jackson BrownePosted: September 29, 2014
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.
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.
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.
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.
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