Jackson Browne is, in turn, reflective and angry on his latest album.
At the seasoned age of 72, Jackson Browne can be excused for only releasing an album every five or six years. In fact, it’s been seven years since his last album, ‘Standing In The Breach’ was released. That album was considered by many to have been his most fully realised disc in some time but he goes one better on ‘Downhill From Everywhere’ which is just about as good an album as one could expect from this elder statesman, a pioneer of immersive songwriting, personal and romantic but also concerned with the world around him. Many years down the line, Browne’s still in love and still railing against injustice and the harm done to the environment.
‘Downhill From Everywhere’ has several songs which, due to Greg Leisz’s guitar and lap steel (and on one song, the addition of Waddy Wachtel), hark back to Browne’s mid-seventies sound while others have a Latin influence. His voice is almost unaffected by the ravages of age, you could place some of these songs against those of his early albums and not spot the difference. Have a listen to the yearning retrospection on ‘A Little Soon To Say’ and ponder its possible inclusion on ‘Late For The Sky’.
That ‘Late For The Sky’ era is recalled on several numbers. The opening song, ‘Still Looking For Something’ has that LA seventies balladry writ within its veins as does ‘Minutes To Downtown’ which glides quite wonderfully. However, it’s on the deeply moving ‘A Human Touch’ where classic Browne most coincides with his current self. Meanwhile, ‘My Cleveland Heart’, a darkly humorous song which suggests that artificial hearts are a safe bet for ageing baby boomers, suggests that Browne may have been listening to his late sparring partner, Warren Zevon.
As the album steers it way into its second half it develops some muscle as Browne, an early champion of human rights and ecological concerns, casts his eye on our current predicaments. The title song addresses the plight of the oceans as they are filled with debris spilling into them. From daily waste and litter to the throwaway society (laptops to ocean vessels – referenced in the cover art), this detritus flows into and pollutes the oceans and the song glowers as Browne and his soulful backing singers rail against it. ‘The Dreamer’ transports us to the Mexican border with its delightful Mexicali tones but it’s a tale of a child immigrant who, years later, is deported after having made her life in the USA. ‘Until Justice Is Real’, with Waddy Wachtel pitching in, is a sinewy number with Browne basically advising us to just think before we automatically believe everything we read as he sings, “Ain’t on your TV, ain’t on your phone. You want the truth you got to find it on your own.” It’s followed by what seems to be what was once called an answer song on ‘A Little Too Soon To Say’. As with some of the earlier numbers, it’s carved once again from Browne’s earlier confessional songs as it finds him reflecting on his past (I took a couple of wrong turns…) and offering a guiding light to those who follow.
The album ends with the rousing ‘A Song For Barcelona’. Here the band swing like The Mavericks as Browne rambles down The Ramblas on a nostalgic trip. It’s both hedonistic and culturally aware (youthful bodies rub shoulders with Gaudi) as Browne celebrates the city and its magnetic pull. As the song climaxes, Browne throws in a tremendous coda, sung in Spanish, which is both proud and angry, leaving one with the impression that he is on the side of those Catalans who crave independence. It’s a magnificent end to what is an engaging album which allows Browne to show that he still is a force to be reckoned with.