Review: Jackson Browne, ‘Downhill From Everywhere’ – A Voice We All Need

“I’m still out here under the streetlight, baby, I’m still lookin’ for something in the night…if all I find is freedom that’s alright…” – Jackson Browne, “Still Looking For Something”

The Rock Chick and I loaded up the car and headed for points West to see the daughter this last weekend. While I was out living my Jack Kerouac “On The Road” fantasy I saw that Jackson Browne released a new album Downhill From Everywhere. I also saw David Crosby had released a new album as well… Jackson Browne and David Crosby both releasing an album on the same day… what is this, 1973? I can’t believe it’s been seven years since Browne last released a studio LP, the late career gem Standing In the Breach. Had B&V existed back then we definitely would have written about that one. Since 2000, Browne has only released four studio LPs, an average of 5 and a quarter years between each one. Needless to say when a singer/songwriter/producer like Jackson Browne drops his first album in damn near a decade, it’s a big deal. For those of you who only know him from “Somebody’s Baby” on the soundtrack for Fast Times At Ridgemont High, there is so much more. He’s had quite a storied career.

I first heard or learned about Jackson Browne the way most people did in the 70s, from rock n roll radio. I can remember prior to my rock awakening, hearing “Dr My Eyes” or “The Pretender” on the stereo at the neighborhood swimming pool when my mother would careen into the parking lot, barely stop and shove us from the car. She always said she was going to be back by 3:00pm and we should be waiting… but it always kinda felt like she might just keep driving and we’d never see her again. Jackson Browne specialized in beautifully sung introspective songs about love, relationships, life and death. These were not topics a pubescent 13 year old was into. I wanted songs with loud guitar about girls and more girls. It was my brother – who as always was out in front of me – who brought a Jackson Browne LP into the house, 1980’s Hold Out. Critics derided it as “self-indulgent” but it’s his only number 1 LP… I loved sitting in my brother’s room listening to “Boulevard” or “Call It A Loan.” While “Hold On Hold Out” with it’s cheesy spoken word part was cringe-worthy I always liked “That Girl Could Sing” and the lyric “She was a friend to me when I needed one, wasn’t for her I don’t know what I’d done.” Even as a teenage virgin I hoped to meet a woman like that.

It wasn’t until college when I was infinitely more secure in my musical tastes that I delved into Browne’s catalog. I picked up his live album Running On Empty which was actually a concept album about the road. I also picked up his debut LP, a seminal singer/songwriter album and of course, The Pretender. His first five LPs are essential listening. After what was considered a disappointing outing on Hold Out, he followed up with Lawyers In Love. The title track was a joke that didn’t land. He has a great sense of humor evinced on songs like “Rosie” or “Ready Or Not” but people didn’t get “Lawyers In Love.” Browne’s songs were always highly personal but after that LP he veered hard into politics. He’d been an activist for a while and had even formed MUSE, Musicians United for Safe Energy and hosted the “No Nukes Concert.” I bought 1986’s Lives In the Balance and 1989’s World In Motion but eventually sold both of them at the Used Record Store. World In Motion was a tough listen… Lives In the Balance despite being political had some great songs.

After a rather cold string – two LPs that weren’t up to his early work and two LPs that were borderline strident – I drifted away from Jackson Browne. His “comeback” LP the very personal, break-up album I’m Alive is a phenomenal record. It really set him onto a stretch of great LPs. Everything he’s done since has been really strong – the kind of LPs B&V were founded on. I really got back into Jackson Browne on The Naked Ride Home from 2002. I highly recommend that disc for everyone. After I’m Alive Browne seemed to come to the realization that he’s better off mixing the personal with the political to make a point. When he balances those two viewpoints in one song, its magic. Time The Conqueror and Standing In the Breach are late career gems… although the latter is the pick of the litter for me, Time The Conqueror veered slightly too far into the political.

In the early 90s I say I drifted away from Jackson Browne’s music but in reality I just drifted back to his early LPs. I finally went out and bought his 2nd and 3rd LPs on CD, For Everyman and Late For the Sky. I was living in a crappy 1-bedroom apartment on Brush Creek, working a dead end job and fresh off a break up when For Everyman and Late For the Sky went into high rotation on my stereo. I was living next door to an exotically beautiful Egyptian woman who, when her boyfriend visited, can be best described by Paul Simon, “Couple in the next room, bound to win a prize.” I was laying awake late at night lamenting my life choices but the neighbor lady was celebrating life at full volume. I was sitting in front of my stereo one day when there was a knock on the door… I turned down the music and opened the door. There stood the screaming Egyptian woman. “What is this beautiful music I always hear coming from your apartment?” Stunned, I sort of mumbled, “Jackson Browne, Late For The Sky.” I sensed she wanted to come in and listen but for some reason I didn’t invite her in… Oh, a life of missed opportunities. Perhaps she could have “been a friend to me when I needed one…” I guess I’ll never know.

I actually saw Browne live for the first time in the middle 90s on the Looking East. He played a show down at the Liberty Memorial. He was amazing that night. I remember he dedicated the song “Fountain of Sorrow” to his ex girlfriend Darryl Hannah. He said, “I’d like to dedicate this song to Darryl Hannah who seems to hate me now…” I went down the rabbit hole on that whole situation this last week… I still don’t know what happened. I saw him again opening up for Tom Petty and he delivered again. If you get a chance to see Browne and his band live, buy the ticket.

Having been seven years since his last LP, as I mentioned before, hearing Downhill From Everywhere is like getting an email from an old friend you haven’t chatted with in a while. Browne’s songwriting chops are still very much in place. His voice is ageless. He’s backed on this LP by Greg Leisz and Val McCallum on guitar, venerable Bob Glaub on bass, Jeff Young on keyboards, and Mauricio Lewak on drums. These guys play like an actual backing band vs a bunch of studio hired guns. Chavonne Stewart and Alethea Mills who have been Browne’s back up vocalists for a long time are back for Downhill From Everywhere. The thing I’ve always loved about Jackson’s music is that he’s always searching for something, for answers. It’s a world view I can understand. He’s also a consummate craftsman – which some critics use as a put-down – but his records always sound great. His early albums all had David Lindley’s slide guitar all over them and McCallum and Leisz capture that same vibe here.

There is so much to like here. The opening track, “Still Looking For Something” is probably my favorite track on the album. It’s a soulful mediation on the search for truth. It’s a feeling I can relate to…I feel like I too am “still out here under the streelight…” “My Cleveland Heart” is a rock n roll song. Why Cleveland and not Detroit? I don’t know. Maybe its a Rock N Roll Hall of Fame reference? It’s a classic Browne rocker. “Minutes To Downtown” is a beautiful song about finding love later in life which more than a few of us can relate to. “The Dreamer” is the perfect example of Browne finding the right mix between the political and the personal. It’s a song in support of the DACA dreamers but told through the lens of a young girl. It’s simply put, a brilliant song. “We don’t see half the people around us, but we see enemies who surround us.” That line pretty much sums up the Fox News crowd… The ballad “A Little Too Soon To Tell” is a classic Jackson Browne song that sounds like lazy, late summer on the porch. “Song For Barcelona” is a track that transports me back to that wonderful city that I hope to return to some day… perhaps to live out my twilight years… “Love Is Love” comes across like a beautiful mantra.

There are only a few moments that miss the mark for me. He does a duet with Leslie Mendelson, “A Human Touch.” I think it was recorded for a movie. Too much Leslie not enough Jackson. “Until Justice Is Done” isn’t a bad political track but it doesn’t really take me anywhere. I dig the sentiment I just can’t get into the song. It sounds like it was something written for a protest rally and I’ve been to plenty but can I dance to it? Other than these slightly “off” moments, this is an amazingly strong late career record.

This is one of the strongest albums of 2021 so far. If you’ve haven’t heard Downhill From Everywhere or any of Jackson’s late period LPs, especially Standing In The Breach or The Naked Ride Home I urge you to seek those out as well. This is a prime example of a classic artists who continues to put out incredibly strong, late career music that deserves a listen. I just hope Jackson comes around a little more often, he’s a voice we need. Pick this one up, pour something strong, get out on the porch and groove. You never know…the pretty neighbor girl might just knock on your door.

Cheers!

B&V’s True Confessions: The Dirty Dozen – 12 Albums That Only I Love… Time to Re-Evaluate?

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“This is no social crisis, this is you having fun…” The Who, “Another Tricky Day”

We’ve all made mistakes in our lives and we’ve all had to learn to live with those bad decisions… Here it is, only day 2 of the enforced “Stay At Home” order and I suddenly feel the need to unburden myself of all my sins. Well, in the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t left my house since nine days ago and the only sins being confessed to here are musical in nature. All other sins… well, those records are sealed until 25 years after I’m gone and forgotten. While I was always someone who people confided in, I must say this confessional mood seems to be catching. I’m hearing all sorts of sordid things. I just had a friend admit to me that he saw the Little River Band in concert. Everybody loves the Little River Band but no one will ever admit to it. Ironically, I happen to have an almost sentimental attachment to their song “Reminiscing.” There, now I’m on record as an LRB fan…more confessions. The Rock Chick admitted to me this morning, for the first time in our marriage, that she saw Molly Hatchet in concert but doesn’t remember much of it… We’ve all been there (The 10 Concerts I Should Have Skipped). I’m still trying to wrap my head around her being at a Molly Hatchet concert but that’s my issue to contend with.

We’ve all made those musical mistakes. You’re standing in the record store and you have Pat Benetar’s Precious Time in your left hand and Beggars Banquet in your right hand and you end up leaving the store with the Benetar “saving” the Stones’ classic for another day. That is sadly based on a true story. Sigh. Not that there’s anything wrong with Pat Benetar but I didn’t buy Beggars Banquet until I was in college, years later (and I’m the Stones freak?).  We all have albums that we’re perhaps embarrassed about now. Maybe the album is “of its time” so to speak. I actually had a Bryan Adams record (Reckless) for a long time that I bought in the 80s. Or perhaps a relationship or friendship led you to a bad choice. I had a TLC’s CrazySexyCool for a while based on the recommendation of an adamant squeeze I had back in the day. Not every woman I dated had the Rock Chick’s impeccable taste in music.

For the most part, as a “serious” collector I’ve culled through my collection and weeded out the outliers. I try to keep everything, vinyl or CD, that I’ve ever owned but being married has forced me to thin the herd. Every time we move I find myself selling at the Used Record store vs buying… although I’m usually a sucker for that “store credit” gambit. I sell off a certain number of albums and come home with a few new ones… it’s just the circle of life. Being cooped up at home these last few nights has sent me looking through my vinyl collection yet again. I discovered a few albums that, I must confess, I just love but have less than stellar reputations. Either the critics were “meh,” or fans didn’t buy the albums but I did. Since I only write about stuff I like – God knows there’s enough negative bullshit in the world – I am often accused of being a tad “over positive” about certain artists and albums. I have to tell you, I’ve really enjoyed listening to these albums over the last few nights. These just might be albums that need a reappraisal. I asked the Rock Chick if she had any albums she loved and no one else did and she said, “I love Oasis and let’s face it nobody but me and (her friend) Rich likes them.” Rich is the one who always asks me at parties I throw to “put on some Oasis.” Although oddly, on those occasions I’ve been at his house, he never seems to play Oasis.

While only one of these albums is truly embarrassing, the rest are solid if not spectacular as some of the entries in the respective artists’ catalogs. Not every album can be Every Picture Tells A Story or Who’s Next. If you’re a career type of artist – one worthy of following an entire catalog – there will be ebbs and flows, peaks and valleys. Since nobody is really going anywhere for a while, put one of these on and dig a little deeper into the catalogs of these great artists. We all have guilty pleasures… these are mine.

  1. The Who, Face Dances -I will always be fond of this, my first Who album. “You Better You Bet” was huge on radio and I bought this record on the spot. With Kenny Jones (formerly of the Faces) on drums and Townsend’s guitar seemingly missing this doesn’t really sound like anything that came before it but I still love this album. “Another Tricky Day” is the perfect antidote for today. “Daily Records” is the nicest statement of purpose in all of rock and roll. “How Can You Do It Alone” about masturbating is funny. The Entwistle songs, “You” and “The Quiet One” both rock with that Who grit. There’s a lot to like here.
  2. Fleetwood Mac, Mirage – Sure, this was a pretty good seller, but after the epic success of Rumours and wild experimentation of Tusk this album seems like a retreat. I am drawn to the melodies and harmonies on this record. Stevie Nicks’ tracks are the gold, from the hit “Gypsy” to the country-rock of “That’s Alright” to the shimmery, sexy track “Straight Back” she could do no wrong. While none of the Buckingham tracks were “hits” I really like a lot of what he’s doing here on tracks like “Empire State,” and “Oh, Diane.” It’s a quiet little pleasure.
  3. The Rolling Stones, Black And Blue – This is basically a recording of the auditions being held for Mick Taylor’s replacement. While many guitarists tried out for the Stones – Peter Frampton, Jeff Beck amongst others – they finally settled on Ronnie Wood. This album is criticized for being a bunch of jams and reggae stuff but that’s what I like about it. The two ballads, the only tracks that required them to actually write a song, are two of my favorite Stones’ deep tracks – “Fool To Cry” and especially “Memory Motel.” In college a friend asked me if this album was any good and I said, no. I would amend that answer to yes, if your expectations for another Exile On Main Street are properly leveled. This is a fun record and “Hand of Fate” is an awesome rock song I’d love to hear live.
  4. Rush, Caress of Steel – I don’t know why this album doesn’t get more love. It’s really the precursor of 2112. All of side 2 is one track, “The Fountain of Lamneth.” It’s a fabulous epic. My all time favorite Rush deep track ends side one, “The Necromancer.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve quoted that song…”weakening the body and saddening the mind.” The playing is impeccable. “Bastille Day” became a mainstay of their live act. This is a great Rush album that the critics savaged.
  5. Led Zeppelin, In Through The Out Door – It had been almost three years since Zeppelin had put out Presence and in that time my rock and roll awakening had occurred. I already owned Led Zeppelin II and IV (or Runes) and was eager to hear new, contemporary Zeppelin. The record industry was pinning its hopes on this album and Tusk to bolster lackluster sales. I think a lot of people were disappointed in this record but I wasn’t. Presence was such a heavy album – really shepherded by Bonham and Page – but both of those guys were in the serious throes of addiction by the time they recorded In Through the Out Door that Plant and Jones took over. The result was a mellower, more synth/keyboard oriented album. “In The Evening” is one of my all time Zep favorites. “Fool In The Rain” showcases Bonham’s still formidable drumming. I love the bluesy last track, “I’m Gonna Crawl.” God knows where they could have gone from this… alas.
  6. Rod Stewart, Blondes Have More Fun – Ok, I’m embarrassed I still like this album. I actually sold the vinyl, thus was my shame. But then I bought it again on CD. It’s a truly guilty, guilty pleasure. It’s Rod’s disco album, the record that burned the bridges with his old fanbase. I didn’t buy it for the disco camp of “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy.” I liked “Ain’t Love a Bitch,” I was always a sucker for ballads. “Dirty Weekend” and the title track are Chuck Berry/Rolling Stone riff rockers. I dig Rod. This is my big confession today.
  7. Jackson Browne, Lives In The Balance – After the failure of Lawyers In Love, Browne decided to get deadly serious about politics. Set that aside, these are great songs. “For America” remains a favorite of mine. The title track, “Soldiers of Plenty,” and “Lawless Avenues” all sound like dispatches from the nightly news set to guitar. The one intimate love song, “In The Shape of a Heart” is one of Browne’s most endearing songs. This isn’t for everyone, it kind of depends on your political feelings…
  8. Eric Clapton, Behind The Sun – People will shudder when I say Phil Collins produced this album. Well, he did the initial sessions but the record company rejected it. They brought in some songwriters and Ted Templeman to shore it up. That troubled history sounds like a disaster, but I dug this record. “Forever Man” remains a huge favorite. “Tangled In Love” is a great rock tune. “Same Old Blues” is an epic at over 8 minutes long. I even like the cover of “Knock On Wood.” Blasphemy? Perhaps.
  9. Neil Young & The Bluenotes, This Note’s For You – The 80s were terrible for Neil Young. He first showed signs of creative life on 1987’s Life with Crazy Horse. Then he did a 180 and put out a horn driven blues album. The blues has always been a great showcase for guitar and I love Neil’s playing on this album. I even bought the live album of this tour, put out 30 year later (Review: Neil Young, “Bluenote Cafe” (Live)). “One Thing” is the ultimate breakup song. “Married Man” is a funny upbeat track. Whether he’s playing a mellow, sad blues or a horn-drive rave up, this is a fun record. The blues will always win out for me.
  10. Roger Waters, Radio K.A.O.S. – My college roommate Drew and I may be the only two people in the world who bought this album. I really dug the title track. Clapton plays guitar on this album and joined the tour as well. If you ignore the bizarre narrative, you can really get into songs like, my favorite, “Who Needs Information,” or “Home.”
  11. Queen, A Kind Of Magic – My college roomies and I were big fans of the Sci-Fi thriller, ‘Highlander.’ This is basically the soundtrack to that film with the addition of “One Vision” which I think was from anther movie. Queen was on the downturn in America, but this is a bunch of great music. “Who Wants to Live Forever” is a great ballad. The production is very much “of its time” but this was the first sign Queen would come back from Hot Space. 
  12. CSNY, American Dream – Neil Young committed to CSN that he’d record another album with them, the first since the live album Four Way Street, if Crosby could get clean. After the much publicized police chase and incarceration, Crosby emerged clean. The bill came due for Neil. People’s expectations were for Deja Vu 2.0 and yes, this album disappoints from that perspective. I loved the title track and bought the album. Crosby’s “Compass” is a wonderful, confessional track. I love Stills and Young working together and have since the Buffalo Springfield. They spark up a little guitar battle in “Drivin’ Thunder.” Stills shines for me on “Glad That You Got It Made.” Graham Nash’s “Never Say Goodbye” is a tune that used to make me mist up. It’s gorgeous.

I get that many of these might not be your cup of tea. You never know… you might discover something you like in this pile of records. If there are “guilty pleasure” albums for you out there, let me know what they are in the comments as I may want to check those out. I’m open to anything during this time of social distancing!

Stay safe and healthy out there! And remember, as the Who sang, “this (really) is no social crisis…this is you having fun” listening to music.