CK Retro Review: Time The Conqueror by Jackson Browne

2008’s Time The Conqueror picks up where Jackson Browne’s previous few albums left off, albeit a tad more cheesed off in the political arena this time around. The music is also a bit more restrained and tender on this album, Browne’s band seeming to sink into more of a complimentary role that suits them and the material well. It’s still lacking any stone-cold classics though, a fact which hampers much of the man’s late-period work. Here is a song-by-song review.

TWO STARS

10. “Time The Conqeuror”- Browne’s meditations on time seem to ride the fence at best in this song, while the music, driven by a simplistic guitar riff, is less than compelling. Not a really good way to kick things off.

9. “Giving That Heaven Away”- It’s light-hearted enough in an old-fogey kind of way, but it really would have worked better as a three-minute diversion than a six-and-a-half minute slog.

THREE STARS

8. “Going Down To Cuba”- The sprightly Latin piano touches are appropriate and fetching, and Browne’s sense of humor makes his beliefs about the titular country go down smoother. The recent news concerning the opening up of U.S. relations with Cuba makes this song sound prescient.

7. “Just Say Yeah”- It’s a song where you keep waiting for a chorus to come around to tie it all together, but one never does. That fault notwithstanding, it has a nice acoustic groove accented by colorful organ and, as a straightforward love song, changes the pace well.

6. “Off Of Wonderland”- This time the riff is much more affecting, setting Browne up to reside in his higher register, which is always lovely to hear. Musing about how the ideals of the 60’s were compromised over time is something that Browne has been doing since The Pretender, but it’s a subject that’s always rife for reexamination.

5. “Where Were You”- Browne’s reportage on the Hurricane Katrina tragedies and resulting injustices is spiced with a decided anti-W. slant (a slant which is also evident on “The Drums Of War.”) The funky grind of the music, leavened by the melodic bridges, helps to make this an exciting listen even when its at its wordiest. And, besides, the words are strong enough that you don’t mind the verbosity so much, even when the point is belabored a tad.

4. “Live Nude Cabaret”- Some nice poetry is spun here. Browne uses a visit to a strip club as a jumping-off point for thoughts on how men use women’s bodies as the cure for all their various ills when those bodies really aren’t theirs to use. The smoky music and delicate melody add to the pretty melancholy.

FOUR STARS

3. “The Drums Of War”- Whatever you think about Browne’s political beliefs, you can’t deny that he expresses them here with conviction and bite, something that’s seconded by the fiery music and excellent work from his female backing vocalists Chavonnne Morris and Alethea Mills. He sings in the song about “who to trust to identify the enemy”, but he leaves no doubt about the identity of his enemies in this searing track. Perhaps his best current events diatribe since Lives In The Balance.

2. “Far From The Arms Of Hunger”- Backing off some of the specific complaints found elsewhere on the album, Browne uses this closing track as a kind of universal plea for sanity and brotherhood. The music, led by Jeff Young’s keyboards, strikes just the right mixture of hope and sadness. It’s kind of an update on John Lennon’s “Imagine”, and that kind of sentiment is always welcome in the world, especially when expressed in such a lovely, understated fashion.

1. “The Arms Of Night”- Old buddy Danny Kortchmar co-wrote this pretty brooder that’s handled so well by Browne’s back-up band that you’d swear The Section was making a cameo appearance. Those elongated syllables massaged by Jackson’s evocative croon also send us rocketing back to the early 70’s heyday. A gem that those who bailed out after the salad days might have missed.

(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

 


CK Review: The Naked Ride Home by Jackson Browne

Browne’s first release of the new millennium, 2002’s The Naked Ride Home, was typically thoughtful and its messages meticulously rendered. But it also continued a disturbing trend of Browne albums lacking the kind of showstopping material that used to be his norm. The words are fine, but the music too often locks into a mid-tempo rut and the melodies don’t simultaneously break your heart and soothe your soul like they once did. Fortunately, a couple strong closing tracks cover up a lot of the holes. Here is a song-by-song review.

TWO STARS

10. “Never Stop”- The lyrics want to be uplifting, but the music, generic blues-soul rendered without much passion ar all, undercuts it at every turn.

9. “For Taking The Trouble”- This one feels like it doesn’t know what it wants to be musically,¬† transforming somewhat awkwardly from a tender acoustic intro into a hiccupy reggae simulacrum. It just ends up sounding busy, which is too bad, because the bones of a good song are here.

8. “Casino Nation”- One of the things that tends to happen when the music is composed by a group, as much of the music on The Naked Ride Home and its predecessor Looking East was, is a kind of instrumental excess that doesn’t add much for the listener. Case in point: this topical rant that feels like the lyrics were jammed into a nondescript blues jam. The points made are fine, if a bit medicine-y, but do you want to sit through seven minutes to get to them?

THREE STARS

7. “About My Imagination”- This bit of soulful self-reflection is genial enough, and some fine keyboard work on organ and electric piano propel the music just enough to get it by.

6. “The Night Inside Me”- It’s pretty much the only song on here that tries to ratchet the tempo up a notch, even if comes off as a bit of an odd fit, Browne lacking the grit to put this kind of thing across as well as, say, Bob Seger. A solid chorus saves the day though.

5. “Sergio Leone”- Eight minutes of this is probably about three minutes more than enough. But the music has a hushed prettiness about it (once you get past the overlong intro), and Browne’s decision to profile the famed spaghetti Western director instead of a more conventional subject is just far enough left of center to make it a neat oddity.

4. “Walking Town”- Here’s one song on the album where the music is spicy enough to justify the elongated running time. A kind of funk-blues groove builds to an urgent chorus. Excellent tension is achieved, befitting Browne’s lyrics about a town, sounding suspiciously like his usual LA setting, where folks, no matter their station in life, walk the streets in constant fear that the ground below them could open up and swallow them at any time.

3. “The Naked Ride Home”- Romantic complications are never too far from Browne’s songwriting focus, and he does a nice job here of conveying that sweet torture of not ever really knowing your partner. That helps overcome the paint-by-numbers nature of the music, as does one of the most eloquent descriptions of freeway hanky-panky you’re likely to hear.

FOUR STARS

2. “Don’t You Want To Be There”- I don’t think gospel uplift comes to mind too often when you think of Browne’s work, but that’s what he achieves on this one. A nice melody does a lot of the work. His lyrics are honest about how much effort it takes to get from the bustle of everyday concerns to the grace of forgiveness and truth in the distance, but the steady reassurance of his voice makes you believe you can get there.

1. “My Stunning Mystery Companion”- The conciseness with which he delivers his message about the saving grace of a redemptive love is almost bracing after the wordiness and, frankly, overkill of many of the songs which precede this closing track. Nice harmony work for Marc Cohn helps out in the nimble refrains, and the music surges and sighs with much more feel than anywhere else on the disc. A great closing song always gives the rest of the album a sort of retroactive boost, a phenomenon that “My Stunning Mystery Companion” delivers here.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com and 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

 

 

 

 

 

 


Wednesday Weeper of the Week: “Here Comes The Flood” by Peter Gabriel

The artist doesn’t always know best.

That’s the conclusion I’ve reached concerning Peter Gabriel’s haunting ballad “Here Comes The Flood.” I knew the song originally from a greatest hits collection called Shaking The Tree: 16 Golden Greats. On that version, which the credits listed as having been recorded specifically for the compilation, Gabriel is accompanied only by piano and some atmospheric effects. He sounds like the survivor of apocalyptic event in this take, sadly surveying what man has wrought.

For years I listened to this version and loved it. Then last year I was watching The Americans, which is the best thing on TV by a wide margin in my humble opinion. At the end of a particularly fine episode, the actions of various characters were set to the original version of “Here Comes The Flood,” which can be found on Gabriel’s 1977 solo debut and which I had never bothered to seek out. And I was floored by its power.

Gabriel apparently thought the song was overproduced by Bob Ezrin, known for his work on Pink Floyd’s The Wall and several other rock classics. While it’s true that Ezrin has never been known for his subtlety, his work on “Here Comes The Flood” coaxes great drama out of it. The crashing guitars and Gabriel’s hollowed-out croon really up the intensity, and the imagery of the lyrics, which are half-environmental plaint and half science fiction, really pops on this take.

I’m providing links to both versions below so you can make your choice. Like I said they’re both fantastic, but I’ve come to prefer Ezrin’s bombast over Gabriel’s desolation.

(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

 


Tuesday Touts: March 24, 2015

Well, the post yesterday should let you know that I’m back after a long hiatus. I apologize for such an extended silence, which was necessitated by the demands of finishing my new book (stay tuned for details soon) and deadlines for other writing and the business of life in general. But I’ve made a spring resolution, if there is such a thing, to keep this blog updated with my long-winded opinions on music new and old, so I’m back, and it’s good to be back.

Anyway, some of these touts are a bit longer in the tooth than usual, but that’s because I’ve accumulated a lot of stuff over the past months that I’ve really enjoyed. So, without further ado, here are four pieces of new music to which I’ve been grooving, as well as one that maybe slipped between the cracks in its original day.

“The Lake Song” by The Decemberists: In actuality, the entirety of The Decemberists’ excellent new album What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World has been on constant replay in the CK household. I’m spotlighting this one because it’s absolutely mesmerizing, a spot-on homage to the dreamy folk of Nick Drake featuring some of Colin Meloy’s most heartfelt lyrics. This one is a true beauty, one of the best things I’ve heard this year.

“He’s Got You” by Rhiannon Giddens: Maybe you know Giddens from her work with the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Her solo album Tomorrow Is My Turn, which received the ultimate Americana stamp from the production of T Bone Burnett, is one you should seek out. My favorite is her soulful take on She’s Got You, written by Hank Cochran and made famous by Patsy Cline. That’s how you interpret a song, folks.

Short Movie by Laura Marling: There’s so much music around these days that it’s easy to miss out on a great artist. I feel like I’ve done just that with Marling, the British singer-songwriter whose work has always received critical acclaim. Luckily, I got a listen to her new album Short Movie, and now I want to go back through the rest of her catalog as soon as possible. The album is out today, and the title track, which you can check out below, is just one of many standout tracks on the disc.

Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit by Courtney Barnett: I had the chance to review this album, out today, for American Songwriter, which, as a big fan of Barnett’s earlier songs like “Avant Gardener”, was a treat. The album doesn’t disappoint, as it’s filled with the Australian performer’s unique songwriting talent. She takes the mundane details of everyday life and teases magic from them, like on the song below, “Depreston”, in which house-hunting reveals just how disposable our lives can seem.

The Reconsider Me Tout of the Week- There’s Gonna Be A Storm: The Complete Recordings 1966-69 by The Left Banke: With the passing last week of chief songwriter Michael Brown, who wrote hits like “Walk Away Renee” and “Pretty Ballerina”, when he was still a teenager. The band imploded far too soon after their initial success, but the band’s string-laden, ultra-melodic pop is all over this compilation, and it still sounds marvelous today.

(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

 

 

 

 

 

 


CK Retro Review: Looking East by Jackson Browne

Looking East, released in 1996, is a tough album within the Jackson Browne catalog to judge. There’s nothing here egregiously bad and much of it is accomplished and solid. But the unforgettable moments, the ones that Browne so often delivers, the ones that knock the wind out of you, are largely missing here. Blame the fact that he shared the writing of many of the songs with the whole band, or blame a lack of focus on the personal stuff that Browne does so well. Whatever the case, the album is a pleasant listen, but Browne’s best never settles in the background like the stuff here tends to do.

TWO STARS

10. “Culver Moon”- It’s not a bad little satire of West Coast excess, I suppose, but “little” is the operative word. At two-and-a-half minutes, it would have been fine: At almost six minutes, you’ll probably be fumbling for the “skip track” button, if such a thing still exists.

THREE STARS

9. “Baby How Long”- Not bad as a blues driven by the percussion of Luis Conte and Mauricio Fritz-Lewak. Probably the one song on the disc where the music actually carries more of the load than the lyrics.

8. “I’m The Cat”- Once upon a time Warren Zevon satirized Jackson’s irresistible nature in song (“Poor Poor Pitiful Me.”) Hearing the man himself getting braggadocious about his charms is reminiscent of that. Fun and lightweight, which this album needs.

7. “Looking East”- The husky rock arrangement and the workmanlike melody don’t quite let the lyrics breathe. Too bad, because Browne can be as eloquent as any at expressing righteous anger. Only bits of that can be heard in this version.

6. “Information Wars”- Give credit to Browne for being ahead of his time with his concerns about media’s need to sensationalize and monetize current events. Some of it gets a bit didactic (especially the bridge), but the sparse funk and pretty backing vocals make it a pleasure to experience even if the truths are hard to hear.

5. “Some Bridges”- There’s not a lot new in the message here: the world is messed up, but I can see a bright side with my baby next to me. Still, the melody is nicely buoyant against the backdrop of the blues-rock foundation, plus Browne sings with passion and power throughout.

4. “It Is One”- Browne could have made this song, based on the searing criticism in some of the lines, a somber affair. Instead he made it the obligatory reggae homage that his late-period albums tend to contain. It works as a counterintuitive closing track. It’s also somewhat fitting that it closes out this album, because it’s good but not great, like so much else here.

3. “Nino”- The knee-jerk reaction upon first listen would be to call this Browne’s answer to Paul Simon’s World Pop hybrids. But Jackson responds with such flair and passion to the material that the song easily becomes his own, a surprising, hidden gem on an album lacking definitive standouts.

2. “Alive In The World”- I just feel like this one could have been great had it been written in the Wrecking Crew days; those cats always wrung the most out of Browne’s self-searching. As it is, it’s still good stuff, better-written than most here, but it doesn’t quite soar like it should.

FOUR  STARS

1. “The Barricades Of Heaven”- Browne takes a look back at the Laurel Canyon scene that he once bestrode with a mixture of sentiment and suspicion. Benmont Tench’s Hammond organ adds a little bit of color to the music. This is the one written-by-committee song here that feels genuinely attuned to Browne’s usual songwriting voice, which is why it’s the best thing on the album by a decent margin.

(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