CK Review: The Naked Ride Home by Jackson BrownePosted: March 26, 2015
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.
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?
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia.)