Published Apr 01, 2014In the late 1960s, Jackson Browne came screaming out of the gate with a notebook full of astonishingly wise, beautiful songs that would soon come to define the SoCal singer-songwriter thing. A sensitive, incisive observer, Browne was also possessed of a soaring voice and unflinching honesty; his was (and remains) a rare talent. Indeed, his first run of five records — Saturate Before Using, For Everyman, Late For The Sky, The Pretender and Running on Empty — ranks among the very greatest opening salvos of any artist you can name.
That his star has faded in the ensuing decades (despite the fact that he's continued to produce worthy, if not essential, records) should not diminish our admiration for his extraordinary arrival. (Although, it must be noted, many listeners turned away from Browne after an ugly episode regarding allegations of domestic violence in the late 1980s. This is a tough but unavoidable part of the story, I'm afraid.)
On this overlong but mostly excellent tribute record, a wide swath of acolytes, colleagues and friends have come together to play his best work. Heavily favouring material from his first three albums, but picking carefully from his less well-known post-'70s work, this double album provides a broad and engaging overview of Browne at his best.
From Lucinda Williams' weary take on "The Pretender" to Lyle Lovett's gorgeous "Our Lady Of The Well," from Bob Schneider's aching "Running On Empty" to Paul Thorn's raucous "Doctor My Eyes," and from Indigo Girls' dreamy "Fountain of Sorrow" to Sean and Sara Watkins' earthy "Your Bright Baby Blues," highlights abound. Too bad Joan Osborne's "Late For The Sky" and JD Souther's "My Opening Farewell" are both such messy readings. Almost everything else here is terrific. (Music Road Records)