Standing In The Breach

Jackson Browne

Inside Recordings, 2014

REVIEW BY: Curtis Jones


When he started his career as a solo artist in the early 1970s, Jackson Browne established himself as second only to Bob Dylan when it comes to the ability to string together powerful and memorable lyrics. Unfortunately in the ‘80s, Browne became unmoored from his ability to dive deep into his soul and pull out the darkness and the romance, slapping it on a solid melody the could hold a listener's attention for five to seven minutes. In the 1980s, Browne became more and more political in his writing but simultaneously less commercially viable. In the ‘90s, Browne alternated between the personal and political, apparently realizing that the political pontifications weren't working with fans that desired the deep stuff. The result ever since is that we don't know which Browne is going to show up. 

Standing In The Breach is definitely on the political side of the spectrum. Browne still maintains his unique form of writing, which is able to utilize long melody chains that somehow do not grow old by the end of the usually lengthy tune. But in far too many songs, he is compelled to turn the song political when it did not appear to be going in that direction when we first started with him.  my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The compulsion seems almost pathological. "The Long Way Around" talks about the US Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, before moving on to gun rights. "Leaving Winslow" is a song with a country beat about living the hobo life and enjoying hopping on trains, but yet somehow Browne still finds a way to work in climate change and the disappearing middle class within the lyrics. "If I Could Be Anywhere" just simply doesn't make any sense lyrically. The premise is how "if I could be anywhere at anytime / I would be here." But "here" is a dismal place as he elaborates on imperialism, how plastic never disintegrates and that the world cannot take it much longer. "Which Side?" follows a predictably similar path with a tune that is very similar to the old coal miners’ union anthem "Which Side Are You On?" This is ironic because that song was written by Appalachian coal miners who wanted to mine coal and unionize. Company managers violently fought against their efforts to unionize, precipitating a strike, during which the anthem was written. It is ironic because those on Brown's side of the political spectrum see coal as evil and not worthy of mining. Yet this is the specter that hangs over this track.

The only track that sounds like the Jackson Browne that we all came to love early on is "The Birds Of St. Marks." The reason far this is because the song was written in 1967 and is released here in its first studio form. It was included on the Solo Acoustic Vol. 1 live album, but this is a polished version.  Here we see all that is great about Jackson Browne's abilities. Romantic subject, vivid imagery, soaring melody – it all works. Sadly, that is just the first track, and the rest of the album does not follow suit.

However, as another positive for the album, Browne's voice sounds great. It doesn't seem to have lost any of it smoothness, power, or range. Comparing his voice to his contemporaries, he has done very well.

I don't want to come off as too political here, but if you are a liberal (in the American political sense) and like the singer-songwriter era of classic rock, then you might love this album. If you are on the right, the constant politicizing may grade on you. If you are apathetic, then you might be confused at times as to why songs suddenly lurch into the political gear like a car with a bad transmission.

Rating: C-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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