Jackson Browne: Standing in the Breach (2014)

Okay, so I like Jackson Browne.  He’s been producing music for about 50 years now, he was just a kid when he started, and so was I.

These days (also the title of his song), Browne is on the outside looking in.  His albums sell modestly, but he’s steady concert draw.  He’s got hardcore fans, but many have written him off because of his politics or past personal matters.  His music still speaks to me.

In 2014, he released his most current CD of new material, Standing in the Breach.  This fall, he will have a new release, and I will likely write about it.

With rare exception, Jackson Browne’s music has always been deeply reflective, almost painfully introspective, and insightful about the world we live in.  This group of song is mostly about our planet, things that should matter, and how we treat each other.  He includes a Woody Guthrie poem which he set to music.

Even I think that Browne can get preachy and a bit obtuse, which can turn off the casual fan.  He came from that early 1970s group of singer/songwriters who adapted by incorporating the L.A. rock sound.  Think Running On Empty, (1977).

In 2014, Browne no longer records for a major label, true of most of his contemporaries.  Looking over the credits, all but a few of the contributing musicians are names I’m not familiar.  No worries, the musicianship is tight and professional.

He was age 66 when he released this album, and is 71 now.  How is this possible?  Here in 2020, Browne was supposed to tour and he’s sitting on an album that will come out in the fall.  He’s also recovering from a bout with the Coronavirus.  I would imagine the events of this year will color his music, although he may have already written songs for the upcoming album.

When I first played Standing in the Breach, I was relieved to hear the warmth and openness of his songs.  It was six years since he released his prior album, which is not surprising, musicians of his era are slow about producing new music.  Even the Rolling Stones have not released an album of original music since 2005.  These legacy performers will all tell you, fans at concerts do not want to hear new music.  That’s for bathroom breaks.  New music, in the digital age, is a tougher sell.

“The Birds of St. Marks” Begins with warm, melodic ringing guitars, with great chord changes, and a lilting chorus.  The guitar work is exquisite. Musically, this one of his most inviting songs.  Interestingly, he wrote this song as a kid, modeled after the Byrds.

 

“Yeah Yeah”  Another song with warm guitar action as it rolls along.

You know I don’t lead you and you know I don’t feed you no lies
And its not up to me to tell you what you see through your eyes.

 

“The Long Way Around”  This is song with an acoustic guitar and drum shuffle.  Times are confusing and we are divided, but in time we will get there, it is the long way around.

I don’t know what to say about these days
I’m seeing people changing in the strangest ways
Even in the richer neighborhoods
People don’t know when they’ve got it good
They’ve got the envy, and they’ve got it bad

 

“Leaving Winslow”  A country shuffle.  Winslow was the location for “Take It Easy,” a song Browne co-wrote with Glenn Frey a lifetime ago.

“If I Could Be Anywhere”  Browne recruits a couple of old pros, keyboard player Benmont Tench (Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers) and drummer Jim Keltner (every popular song in the 1970s).  A very inviting beat and relaxed arrangement, then the song shifts into a high gear as Browne sings about the the course the world is on.

The Romans, the Spanish, the British, the Dutch
American exceptionalism – so out of touch
Successions of empire repeating its course
Extracting the wealth and ruling by force
On and on through time

“You Know the Night”  Words by Woody Guthrie, music by Browne and Rob Wasserman.  A country-folk shuffle.  The guitar work, especially the lap steel guitar, is quite good.

“Walls and Doors”  Written by Carlos Barela, translated by Browne.  A soft, acoustic song.

Ever since the world’s existed
There’s one thing that is certain
There are those who build walls
And those who open doors
Ah but this my love I’m thinking you already knew

“Which Side?”  Another country-rocker, sound a bit like Tom Petty.  Which side are you on, battle lines are drawn.  The lyrics are pretty clear.

“Standing in the Breach”  Despite the problems we face, Browne is optimistic that we can right this course.

And though the earth may tremble and our foundations crack
We will all assemble and we will build them back
And rush to save the lives remaining still within our reach

“Here”  A gentle sweet song, with smooth sound and ringing guitar.  This is one of my favorite songs on the album.

You wait for the tears to fall but they won’t
You think you should know what to say but you don’t
The world is moving on its way
Without her


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