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Possibly The Most Under-Appreciated Singer-Songwriter Ever
on 21 May 2004
The effect Jackson Browne had in the media with his many relationships with celebrities, including fellow 70's folkie, Joni Mitchell, and his stance politically, have staked his claim in history as not just an inspired individual, but someone who liked to put his point across without exception, when really he started out as an honest world-weary folkster. Indeed, 'Late For The Sky' the title track of what is widely considered Jackson Browne's greatest achievement, is about his failing relationship with Mitchell. It's also the highlight of this and any other album you're likely to find, along with around 20 beautifully crafted, timeless pop songs on a 2 disc set spanning 32 tracks.
Of course Browne wasn't ashamed to put his state of mind into his work, in fact he was one of the best at it. Numerous failed relationships ended with beautiful songs that reflected his personal relationship as well as a thousand others in just a few verses. The lyrics were never overly complicated or winding, nor should they have been; this is your average man singing a song for average people who know their emotions, or to an extent don't. So it was a bit of a shock when he turned political towards the end of the seventies and throughout the eighties, stubbornly sticking to this formula until 1994's superb comeback to original form, 'I'm Alive', throughout his political years showing very little signs of returning to where he began. He also stubbornly refused to release a greatest hits, the first coming in 1999, and this, only the second, appearing in 2004. On this superior collection spanning two discs features pretty much all of the emotions and stances that Jackson Browne ever put across.
Unfortunately, Jackson will mostly be known for the driving anthem, 'Running On Empty' which is indeed a catchy, thriving song, but it wasn't really Jackson Browne. In a way it was, everything he wrote was him, but Browne was more about emotion than riding the freeway. There's a fairly good run through his eighties work which has tended to age since he used a lot of the 'equipment' that was popular, and in the end wasn't as timeless. The arena rocker, 'Lawless Avenue' and one of his few more famous songs, 'Lives In The Balance' are both politically charged, while the beautiful 'In The Shape Of A Heart' was a slight showing that Jackson still had the abilities he had throughout the 70's for writing a good pop song about 'life as it is' even just for a brief moment.
Of course, Jackson Browne is most famous for his beautiful, low key, shining, stunning emotional tracks that filled the first 10 years of his career, before he became America's unheard political spokesman. Just about all the classics are here, opening with the joyous and yet slightly pessimistic, 'Doctor My Eyes' driven by a terrific piano line, shortly joined by drums and guitars and layered vocals that were scattered throughout his work since. 'Jamaica Say You Will' is a standout ballad, supremely relaxed and mournful in a feel-good way, it is one of the best 'morning songs' ever written. 'Take It Easy' which is more famously an Eagles song, is recorded superiorly by Browne is also included, as well as the all time classic, searching, 'These Days'. The not quite so effective attempt to step into the country market of the 70's, 'Redneck Friend' is a good intervention, before the likes of 'Fountain Of Sorrow' and the beautifully tragic, 'Late For The Sky' and the song for every man and woman out there working hard, 'The Pretender' glide back in to smooth the surface. Indeed the album 'Late For The Sky', Jackson's third album, was seen as the one that might kill him. His first two albums were mainly songs that had been written years before, and 'Late For The Sky' was his first newly written album. It was a critical and musical triumph, and sales started to come in throughout America and reached its peak with the on-the-road album, 'Running On Empty'. Included from Jackson's on the road journal on songs are the favourites, 'The Load-Out' an ode to the roadies, followed by 'Stay' one of the few songs that Browne didn't write on this collection, as well as the infamous hit title track.
Disc 2 is a more rocking volume of work mainly consisting of the previously mentioned political albums. To some this was a means to stop buying Jackson's records. Indeed they were nowhere near as good as his debut, or the mournful 'Late For The Sky', or many of his albums from the 70's where Jackson was at his peak. There are some fine songs on there; they are just brought down slightly by the 80's style he picked up. That doesn't mean Jackson Browne decided to go dance-pop synth style: he just used a few of the eighties effects. The hit single 'Somebody's Baby' was one of the few shining lights for Browne throughout the eighties, remaining timeless despite the eighties style vocal effects on the chorus, and the strange flute style noises in the background. 'In The Shape Of A Heart' as previously said was a nice break in the sometimes tedious ways of Jackson's political beliefs, but the 90's offered a much more interesting proposition. The release of 1994's 'I'm Alive' a return to Jackson's roots, was greeted by many fans as a triumph, and the gorgeously touching title track deserves it's place on this compilation. I have never heard a track about losing a lover that is so uplifting and yet reflects exactly how the individual must be feeling, presented by the most experienced man there is. Indeed, 'I'm Alive', the album, was an album about losing love, spite, acceptance, forgiveness, refinding love and finally commitment, and one of the tracks of commitment is deservedly featured in 'Sky Black And Blue' one of Jackson's finest ballads. You always knew he was still there hiding behind the politics, you just weren't sure...
But still Jackson Browne was one of those rare artists who did what he wanted and did it well. Although his eighties works were not greeted well, it didn't put him off and has been doing as he pleases since. Even on 2002's slightly disappointing, 'The Naked Ride Home' (of which two tracks are taken, the title track and the bitter 'The Night Inside Me') and the previous album, 'Looking East' (of which two tracks are extracted, again the title track and the truly beautiful reminiscent, 'The Barricades Of Heaven') Jackson always sounded like he was doing it his way. And despite one or two missing beauties, such as the reggae infused mega-catchy, 'Everywhere I Go' and the title track from 'Hold Out' and the wonderful 'That Girl Could Sing', both fans and new to-be fans will be very pleased by 'The Very Best Of Jackson Browne' as it contains every emotion and power that made Jackson Browne one of the greatest singer songwriters of the 70's, if not of all time.