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

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