Jackson Browne’s self-titled debut album (also called Saturate Before Using by some because the cover art depicting a burlap sack contained those words at the top) shows this artist turning out introspective songs played around acoustic guitars and piano. It also showcases Browne’s writing before his later, more commercialized pop recordings and before the tragic death of his wife in the late ‘70s. Even though this was a debut, by this point in his career Browne had already been a member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and had been a songwriter for other artists on the payroll of Elektra Records. With the benefit of years of polishing his songwriting craft, it’s no wonder that this debut sounds more like a more seasoned musician’s third or fourth outing.
Jackson Browne is a very intimate recording. From the very first notes of piano on “Jamaica, Say You Will,” it feels like the band is playing in the room. There aren’t a lot of rocking songs with guitar solos, and in fact some are just Browne and a cleanly picked acoustic guitar. But that intimacy pulls the listener in to try to understand the stories that Browne is relating, and the arrangements on most of the songs compliment the lyrical material well.
“Song For Adam” is a haunting track that will stick with you for the rest of the day. Acoustic guitar and a viola play along in a minor key while Browne sings a song about a friend who died from an apparent suicide as he wonders about his own fate. “Doctor My Eyes” comes the closest to being pop, which is likely why it was selected as the album’s main single and was a success. The other single from the album, “Rock Me On the Water,” is a gospel-tinged number that makes you want to go back and listen again.
As was common in the singer-songwriter era, there are several songs that are beautiful, but their meaning is only known to the artist and a few very close friends. Nevertheless we listen. “Something Fine” is arguably one of the most beautiful songs on the album, and is accompanied only by a finger-picked acoustic guitar. The lyrics pull you in close for an intimate story, but in the end the song is so personal that the meaning is out of reach. Other songs foreshadow some of Browne’s later writing. “Looking Into You” and “From Silver Lake” are a taste of the wide-ranging songs with great melodies that will be more pronounced on 1974’s Late For The Sky.
Overall, Jackson Browne is an incredible debut album that shows that Browne’s musicianship and writing were already pretty well advanced in his early twenties. Better yet, this album is free from the over-production would plague Browne’s later works.