post

Looking Into You: A Tribute to Jackson Browne

Looking Into You: A Tribute To Jackson BrowneNo one can capture the pitch and tempo of life’s angst-filled scenes of sorrow and heartache – and put them into song – quite like Jackson Browne, and he’s been doing it with perfection for well over 40 years. A newly-released, talent-packed album – conceived by longtime Browne fan, Keley Warren – pays honor to those 40 plus years of music.

That’s impossible to jam into one disc, so they spread the 23 tracks performed by some of Browne’s peers – an extremely talented collection of long-time friends and young devotees – over an impressive two CD package. I wouldn’t be surprised (but I would be pleased) if there ends up being a Volume II sometime down the road. With as many artists as Browne has influenced and inspired, I can’t imagine why it’s taken so long for such an album to come out, but the good thing is, after listening to Looking Into You: A Tribute to Jackson Browne, I think you’ll agree… it couldn’t have been handled by a better crew.

I was first turned on to Jackson Browne’s music way back in 1972 when I bought The Eagles’ first album. After seeing Browne’s name listed as the writer for “Take It Easy,” I had to check him out. I’ve loved his music – and especially his lyrics – ever since. Browne’s words always seem to ring clear to me when I’ve needed them the most – at times of loss, frustration or sadness. During the 70s, my losses usually stemmed from the heartbreak of teenage love, and my favorite Jackson Browne album to feel sorry for myself to was Late for the Sky. I’d put it on, call my brother, and tell him all my troubles. By the end of the album, I felt purged and ready to give life another shot. It became a tradition between my brother and me. Whenever one of us hit rough water in a relationship, we’d call each other, share our stories and some Jackson Browne music.

Being of that era, I was very pleased to discover that most of the tracks on this tribute were pulled from Browne’s work from my favorite years – the 70s. Don Henley leads off this collection with a beautifully horn-infused version of one of Browne’s earliest works – “These Days” – that was penned when he was only 16 years old (a fact I’m still amazed by). Originally recorded by Nico in 1967, then released by Browne on his second studio album For Everyman, “These Days” remains a classic example of one of Browne’s more prominent themes – loss and regret.

Instead of prearranging tracks for artists to lay vocals over (as is done in so many tribute and duet albums) the producers of Looking Into You – Warren along with Grammy-winning Tamara Savinano – opted to give the artists and their bands freedom to explore the underlying currents of Browne’s music and lyrics, and see where it took them. This could have been risky, but turned out to be an excellent decision, and the end product proves it. The entire album is very well done with outstanding choices being made by artists and engineers alike. On first listen, some of the tracks may seem to mimic the original recording, (Saying Griffin House sounds a lot like Browne on “Barricades of Heaven” is a huge compliment),  but listen further and you’ll discover some pleasantly refreshing nuances that set them apart. In some fan-created videos below, I’ve spotlighted a couple of tracks (“Running on Empty” and “Late for the Sky”) from this tribute that stand out to as exceptionally unique departures from the originals.

First, here’s a peek behind the scenes as  Bonnie Raitt and David Linley reggae-nate “Everywhere I Go” elevated by Raitt’s distinctive slide guitar work. (And yeah… I just made up the word Reggae-nate).

Bonnie Raitt and David Linley in the Studio – Behind the scenes recording “Everywhere I Go”

 

Bob Schnieder takes a brave step by turning the originally hard-rocking “Running On Empty” into an introspective testimony to how lonely life on the road can become after time. This drastic rearrangement  might turn some off, but I dug it. The simple bed of percussion echoes the vibration of tires rhythmically slapping the seams of “the road rushing under the wheels,” heading steadily into an unknown future, as the landscape of the years gone by fade in the rearview mirror.  Schnieder’s vocal treatment makes apparent a deep-rooted love to live the life that he has made in song, albeit reluctantly veiled with regret of what has been left behind. These sincere qualities were present, but somewhat lost in the faster-paced original version. In blinding contrast, Paul Thorn took on “Doctor My Eyes” as his contribution to this homage, and turned it into a kick-ass, slide-guitar-driven rocker.

Bob Schnieder – “Running On Empty”

 

Joan Osbourne deftly dissects the opening chords of “Late For The Sky” and splays them wide, revealing the jagged, uncomfortable tension of that song’s subject before a word is ever spoken.  The emotion-filled tones can put a lump in your throat by the second bar of the intro. Osbourne’s voice seems to carry a fatigued agony as she sings of the pain that comes with the realization of a dying relationship that can only give way to loneliness –  Looking hard into your eyes / There was nobody I’d ever known / Such an empty surprise to feel so alone.

Along the lines of that same subject – dying relationships – Grammy winning folk singer / songwriter Shawn Colvin gives “Call It A Loan” a soothing apologetic voice to ease the sting.

Lyle Lovett was given the distinct honor of being the only artist to be granted two tracks of space on this collection, apparently because the producers couldn’t decide which track sounded the best. Besides handing in a great rendition of  Browne’s “Our Lady of the Well” – another standout track from his 1973 release For Everyman – Lovett also covered one of my personal favorites – “Rosie” – from Browne’s extremely sucessful 1977 album Running on Empty.

Lovett seems to have a grip on what “Rosie” is all about. He’s a perfect fit. He handles “Rosie” with tenderness and understanding… or should that be the other way around? Okay – enough with the double entendres, but I do have a funny story regarding “Rosie.”

The girlfriend I had back in 1977 (when Jackson Browne’s Running on Empty came out) didn’t get “Rosie.” I got it, my buddies got it, my buddies’ girlfriends got it too. No… my girlfriend thought it was a sweet love song about a guy that remains faithful to his girl back home. (In a way, she was kind of right). Of course, my girlfriend was given a good ribbing over her naivety, and since she felt I was somehow responsible for her embarrassment… I ended up spending a lot of time with “Rosie” myself.

Lyle Lovett – “Rosie”

 

From his Late for the Sky album, Browne’s “Fountain of Sorrow” pulls the listener in with innocent lyrics about a photograph that take a turn, revealing Browne’s insight of the fragility of human emotions – You were turning ’round to see who was behind you / And I took your childish laughter by surprise / And at the moment that my camera happened to find you / There was just a trace of sorrow in your eyes – and the stark reality of the in-attainability of true love – But when you see through love’s illusions, there lies the danger / And your perfect lover just looks like a perfect fool / So you go running off in search of a perfect stranger / While the loneliness seems to spring from your life / Like a fountain from a pool. The Indigo Girls did a beautiful job with this classic.

 Indigo Girls – “Fountain of Sorrow”

 

Those are by no means the only bright spots in this collection. There’s not one hint of weakness in any of these tracks. Every one is stellar in its own way. Jimmy LaFave delivers a moving rendition of “For Everyman.” California-born singer/songwriter Ben Harper is absolutely perfect on “Jamaica Say You Will.” The inherently talented Austin, Texas based Eliza Gilkyson reaches the sky on “Before the Deluge.” Kevin Welch brings a sincerely soothing interpretation of the title track “Looking Into You” while Keb’ Mo’ strives to bring you to your feet with his take on “Rock Me On The Water.” Lucinda Williams brings a previously-absent weariness to “The Pretender.”  Karla Bonoff lends her eloquent talent to “Something Fine.” Marc Cohn (along with Joan As Police Woman) bring a solemn, moving touch of darkness to “Too Many Angels.” Sean and Sarah Watkins of Nickel Creek add their own color to “Your Bright Baby Blues.” Bruce Springsteen and his wife/band mate get all romantic with the mariachi-styled “Linda Poloma.”  Bruce Hornsby steps away from what you may be used to hearing from him, and into a well-fitted Americana sound with his version of the inspirational “I’m Alive.” J.D. Souther appropriately closes the collection with the same tune Jackson Browne closed his 1972 self-titled debut album – “My Opening Farewell.”

Like I mentioned at the beginning of this article, Jackson Browne’s music has always been present when I’ve needed it the most. I’ve recently suffered what I feel is more than my fair share of sadness and loss. I know I’m not the only one, and “life goes on,” but that doesn’t make it hurt any less.

During Venice’s flawless rendering of Browne’s timeless “For A Dancer” on this tribute collection, as they delivered the lines – I don’t know what happens when people die / Can’t seem to grasp it as hard as I try / It’s like a song I can hear playing right in my ear / That I can’t sing, I can’t help listening – I heard them as I’ve never heard them before. I also gained some hope from this line from “These Days” – I’ll keep on moving / Things are bound to be improving these days.

Whether you’re a longtime Jackson Browne fan or newly discovering his music, you’d be cheating yourself if you don’t pick this collection up. Then share this wonderful tribute with fellow music lovers.

Music heals, and this album came at the perfect time for me, and I know my brother would have loved it.

 

Share the love of OKOM!