CK Retro Review: Standing In The Breach by Jackson BrownePosted: April 2, 2015
As the spaces between albums get longer, you sometimes worry about how your favorite classic artists are going to come back from their ever-lengthening layoffs. In the case of Jackson Browne, he relieved any worried fans with the fine quality of 2014’s Standing In The Breach, his first album in six years. Yes, he’s still testy about the state of the world and maybe a bit too eager to share that testiness with us, but he’s never less than eloquent about it. And, when he gets down to personal matters, this record really soars. Here is a song-by-song review:
10. “Standing In The Breach”- If there’s one issue with the album, which I think is actually the best he’s managed since I’m Alive, it’s that it suffers from epic-itis. There are maybe a few too many songs that try too hard to be a show-stopper and save the world at the same time, and the title track is the least effective in achieving those goals. There’s not a bad lyric in this song, but they all start to blend together. Nor are they helped by, to borrow one of his old phrases, what seems like a paint-by-numbers Jackson Browne melody.
9. “Which Side?”- It would have been better had it kept on as a kind of a homage to Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody” as it is in the first verse. Instead it veers into another diatribe, which not even the solid Muscle Shoals groove can salvage. Maybe it’s timing: If this had been the first song on the album, it would have been a bracing wake-up call. By the eighth song, you’re weary of hearing about the world’s problems, no matter how accurately or cleverly they’re stated.
8. “You Know The Night”- Browne is not the most likely guy you would expect to cover a Woody Guthrie song, but give him credit for taking a lesser-known song from the folk legend and making it sound like his own.
7. “The Long Way Around”- The deja-vu of the wistful opening guitar is lovely, especially when Browne undercuts it with the first line: “I don’t know what to say about these days.” His befuddlement at current times and how he managed to make it to them is charming. That said, the final verse about gun concerns breaks the spell and feels a bit too heavy for this song to bear.
6. “If I Could Be Anywhere”- Browne sounds so invested in his lyrical concerns here that he may have skimped a bit on the music, which lurches from motif to motif without much rhyme or reason (although the moody coda gets it together.) He’s warned us before about the oncoming deluge, but, instead of hightailing it out of here, the affecting chorus makes it clear that he’ll be around to try and build the dam.
5. “Walls And Doors”- A very pretty English translation of a song by Cuban artist Carlos Varela, “Walls And Doors” clearly touches a nerve with Browne, who lends it an impassioned vocal performance. Pretty stuff with a lot on its mind and even more in its heart.
4. “Leaving Winslow”- Another callback to an earlier Browne work (“Take It Easy” first introduced us to Winslow, Arizona), this one chugs along with a nice country groove and choogling guitar work. Again, the last verse’s topicality feels unnecessary; this one works better as a travelogue and a kind of farewell to a cherished time.
3. “Yeah Yeah”- The unassuming music can make you think this is just a pleasant little throwaway. But then you listen to the wisdom of the words, which create an honest depiction of the hard road most loves travel and the persistence it takes to make a long-term romance work. But then that kind of topic has always been right in Browne’s wheelhouse.
2. “The Birds Of St. Marks”- Browne wrote it about Nico a million years ago with The Byrds in mind to record it, which is why his band essays it in a jangly gallop. It makes it mid-tempo catchy, and the words are truly beauties, Browne playing the suitor resigned to coming up short in his pursuit of an unknowable queen. Still, it would have received the five-star treatment if Browne had played it as he did on Solo Acoustic Vol. 1: Just the man, his piano, and his broken heart.
1. “Here”- Funny that the best thing here is probably the most modest in scope. In a kind of update on the Beatles’ “For No One”, Browne’s insightful narrator pokes holes in the tough facade of a guy who’s just lost the love of his life. The lyrics are minimal and unshowy but every one of them cuts to the heart, and the acoustic guitar riff eventually reveals itself as the ideal soundtrack for the lonely. Ultimately you’re left “Here where the sorrow flows/And all you will never know about her.” Ouch for the poor sap in the song; well-done by Browne.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia.)