CK Retro Review: Standing In The Breach by Jackson Browne

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 or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia.)


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.


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.


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.


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 or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia.)


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.


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 and follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia.)







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.


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.


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.


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 or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia.)

CK Retro Review: I’m Alive by Jackson Browne

After spending most of the 80’s expounding on the problems of the world at large and the evil that men in power tend to do, Jackson Browne brought it all back home with a break-up album. 1993’s I’m Alive finds Browne shedding the trendier sounds that made his 80’s efforts so erratic, sounding at folk-rock ease here even when the lyrics betray pain and anguish. While it doesn’t quite scale the heights of his 70’s masterworks, there are more than enough echoes of that dizzying greatness, especially in the strong second half of the album, to make it a fine return to form. Here is a song-by-song review:


10. “Miles Away”- Browne is joined throughout the album by three members of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers; Scott Thurston is essentially his right-hand man on the disc while Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench pop up sporadically, including on this track. Alas, Browne seems a little lost in the grinding rock beat here, which could have used some of the attitude inherent in Petty’s drawl.


9. “Everywhere I Go”- Browne continues his 80’s tradition of including a reggae-tinged track for some musical color. He even breaks into a quasi-rap that he pulls off better than you might expect.

8. “I’ll Do Anything”- The moodiness of the acoustic guitar makes the titular promise seem dark and desperate, as if nothing he does is going to turn the tide. It’s a bit one-note in terms of its approach, but it certainly sustains the tension bubbling to the surface of the relationship in question.

7. “Take This Rain”- The gentle sway of the music and the catchiness of the chorus help to take the sting out of the fact that the narrator is admitting that there is no saving matters between his woman and him. “You’re going to be free,” he sings, almost encouragingly, treading the high road because contemplating what’s below is just too painful.

6. “My Problem Is You”- Actually, it would have been more accurate for him to have said, “My problem is the lack of you.” Some soulful backing vocals help in enliven an arrangement that’s too tasteful to draw much blood. The humor at the end, where Browne claims to not care about the ozone layer (we don’t believe you) or Madonna’s latest exploits, earns this one a couple extra points.

5. “All Good Things”- Don Henley and David Crosby stop by to lend backing vocals, the latter’s appearance extremely appropriate since Campbell plays a particularly Byrds-y guitar part. Browne widens his focus a bit here, so that his pronouncements about finality could apply to a love affair or a life. Maybe a bit of an anticlimax after the towering “Sky Blue And Black”, but I guess you really couldn’t put a song with this subject matter anywhere but album’s end.

4. “Too Many Angels”- This is a beautiful set of lyrics and music that gets a tad too fussy production and arrangement-wise for my liking. The excess atmosphere and too-prominent backing vocals distract a bit from Browne’s unsparing look at the uncontrollable downward spiral of a relationship. “But there’s no end in sight,” he sings, referring to the inner torment one suffers in the midst of a dying love affair. “Only the dead of night.” That kind of powerful moment doesn’t need any embellishment.


3. “I’m Alive”- On the title track and opener, Browne comes out the other side of a spent relationship, incredulous that he survived it. While he doesn’t skimp on the painful details or darker emotions, the light-footed rhythm, airy electric guitars, and subtly exotic percussion touches leave him sounding buoyant in spite of all the wounds where he’s been run through. Out on the open road again and looking forward instead of back, his narrator ends up more triumphant than tortured.

2. “Sky Blue And Black”- The kind of sprawling love-and-loss song that Browne trademarked and perfected circa ’73, “Sky Blue And Black” is centered by his piano, all plaintive chords and a yearning five-note riff that’s repeated throughout the song. The backing vocalists (Arnold McCuller and old Browne buddy Valerie Carter) provide powerful counterpoint to Browne’s wordy ruminations. When he says, “That’s the way love is” at the end, you believe him, because he really hasn’t left anything relevant out of the equation.


1. “Two Of Me, Two Of You”- The most underrated songs by rockers with longevity tend to be their non-singles from late-period albums, songs that tend to be known and considered to any degree only by diehards. This stunningly pretty and fearless dissection of the causes of  relationship fissures is a fine example of this phenomenon. Browne’s melody is resigned and sorrowful even when it soars, and the lyrics, simple on the surface, cut as deep as heartbreak. This is the man doing what he does best: depicting the hollow tradeoff when insight is gained at the expense of love.

(E-mail me at or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia.)

CK Retro Review: World In Motion by Jackson Browne

1989’s World In Motion continued Jackson Browne’s foray into social and political issues, albeit without the same grace and deftness that he managed on his previous release Lives In The Balance. A big problem was the music, which was listless and pock-marked with some of the 80’s most egregious production excess. As a result, some lovely tunes and effective lyrics were somewhat lost in the shuffle, adding up to an album that is far more admirable than memorable. Here is a song-by-song review:


10. “Chasing You Into The Light”- Repetitive musically and forgettable lyrically. Browne’s narrator wants to come off like some kind of savior to the girl he’s addressing but comes off more like a stalker.

9. “World In Motion”- It sounds like some of the synthesized blues with which Steve Winwood was having success at that time. Not so much for Browne. It’s well-meaning, and having Bonnie Raitt around helps, but it’s not a good harbinger, as the title track and opener, for the rest of the album.

8. “How Long”- There’s a decent piano ballad hidden in here, because the melody has all the heart-twisting peaks and valleys of Browne’s 70’s classic work. But those overbearing synths drown a lot of the charm from the music and there’s nothing really that he hasn’t said before about social issues like hunger or nuclear war.


7. “My Personal Revenge”- Some of the sentiments may get a little lost in the translation between Spanish and English, but the undeniable prettiness of the music is enough to make this one a pleasant diversion.

6. “When The Stone Begins To Turn”- Browne, never known as the most rhythmic rocker, actually sounds more at home in the reggae setting of this plea for the freedom of Nelson Mandela than in some of the fussier productions elsewhere on the album.

5. “Enough Of The Night”- The lyrics are actually quite nice, an affecting character sketch that means a little more because of the narrator’s emotional connection to the girl being profiled. It never quite settles on what it wants to be musically though, making for a bit of a bumpy ride.

4. “Lights And Virtues”- Old buddy David Lindley gives the album a pleasant benediction on the closing track with his slide work. Browne drinks a toast to some positive intangibles and leaves us on a note of ambivalence, hinting at what means the most in life and how we should deal if the pursuit of it comes up empty: “The pleasure of love and friendship/The courage to be alone.”

3. “The Word Justice”- The specificity of Browne’s diatribe here, targeted at the connection between drugs, weapons, war, and profit made by those in the halls of power, sets it apart from some of the more generalized protests found in other songs. It’s still overproduced by half, but the audible fire in his belly for the cause enlivens the entire enterprise.

2. “Anything Can Happen”- Every single sound on this song sounds manufactured instead of played. Yet Browne damn near overcomes it all with a tune that rises from sorrow to majesty and a lyric that balances the personal and political as well as anything on the album. “We change in ways a life demands,” Browne sings, a line that speaks to the transformation he believes can occur on a larger level, and you might believe it too when he hits those piercing notes in the refrain.


1. “I Am A Patriot”- Steven Van Zandt’s protest song comes from the heart and the gut, and Browne seems absolutely liberated to sing it after all the heavy, cerebral stuff he labors to spew throughout the album. So too does the music avoid the bloat that weighs down other songs by gliding lightly on a skittering rhythm and buoyant acoustic guitars. Maybe it’s a bad sign that the best song on the album is a cover, but Browne deserves some credit for doing such justice to a track that was relatively obscure at the time.

(E-mail me at or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia.)

CK Retro Review: Lives In The Balance by Jackson Browne

In a just world, Jackson Browne’s 1986 album Lives In The Balance would have been hailed as the kind of mass-audience masterpieces that peers like Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon achieved in the second half of the decade. Not everybody was ready for the unflinching truth-telling, often at the expense of America’s leaders, that defined the album. Agree or not, the message was searingly spoken against a more diverse musical backdrop than Browne had ever before attempted. And, sadly, the album sounds eerily relevant still. Here is a song-by-song review:


8. “Soldier Of Plenty”- This is the one song on the album that gets a little too fussy production-wise and doesn’t do enough musically to leaven some of the bile being spewed, which makes it a bummer to endure even when the points being made are valid.


7. “Candy”- Imagine a more in-depth look at the inner workings of the girl from “Somebody’s Baby” and you’ve got the gist of this moody track. It’s not as thorough as it could have been but it’s solid nonetheless.

6. “Lawless Avenues”- Browne catalogs the lives and deaths of a rough Latin neighborhood and adds in a couple anti-war shots for good measure. “Fathers and sons’ lives repeat,” he sings, suggesting the endless cycle of poverty and violent crime that hamstrings these hard-luck characters. Nice use of the Spanish vocals as well to add some authenticity to the tale.


5. “Till I Go Down”- The kicky reggae might have signalled a softening of Browne’s withering approach some other time, but not on this album. Instead it serves to soundtrack his promises of eternal vigilance as long as the atrocities he sees persist. By the time it’s over, “Till I Go Down” has turned into a rousing if unlikely anthem.

4. “For America”- With the charging guitar and the saxophone piercing the night, Browne sounds like he’s invading the territory of his buddy Bruce Springsteen with this opening salvo. The desperation in his performance sets it apart though, as does his willingness to castigate his younger self for not being more aware of the lies and governmental sleight of hand he now sees everywhere he turns.

3. “Black And White”- Browne brings it back down to a personal level on this elegant closer. He challenges the protagonist to reach back to his former self, the one ready to fight for his ideals no matter the cost, before it’s too late. The refrain of “Time running out” works on that micro level but it also serves as a larger warning that echoes the politicized rants elsewhere on the album. That Browne manages this so seamlessly without an ounce of strain is just par for the course for this gifted songwriter.


2. “Lives In The Balance”- Browne steals some of Paul Simon’s thunder by imbuing this unsparing protest song with hauntingly sad music featuring exotic Spanish folk song overtones. Not that he’s trying to sweeten the medicine: His lyrics about the questionable reasons that countries use to justify wars are as harshly eloquent as he’s ever written. If anything, the beauty of the music only intensifies the senselessness of the situation as perceived by Browne. “There are children at the cannons,” he sings, an image of madness that drives his point home with excruciating accuracy.

1. “Shape Of A Heart”- On this album full of topical material, Browne realizes that the topic of tortured romance is always a hot-button issue. This poignant, warts-and-all reflection on a past relationship allows him to theorize that the flowery stuff of love songs and the ugliness of real life are usually at opposite poles, and never the twain shall meet. “People speak of love don’t know what they’re thinking of,” Browne sings, and you get the sense he’s including his past songwriting self as one of those “people.” The moment when he drops his former flame’s old ruby into the hole in the wall from one of their former fights, a symbolic act of letting go, gets me every time.

(E-mail me at or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia.)