Jackson Browne/Downhill From Everywhere/Inside Recordings
3.5 out of Five Stars
Jackson Browne looks slightly weary and wizened on the inside sleeve of his new album, the ironically titled Downhill From Everywhere. Then again, he’s purveyed a darker demeanor for much of his career, a troubled troubadour who struggles to make sense of the world around him. That was evident even in the initial songs he shared—“Rock Me on the Water,” “These Days,” “Here Come Those Tears Again,” “The Pretender,” and all those other offerings that found him peering into an abyss. The fact that he continues to evoke that unyielding imagery would seem to mean that the questions that concerned him early on haven’t dissipated with age. He still appears to be obsessed with a bleak divide. Credit him with processing the perils and sharing them with those that are willing to face them head-on.
Downhill from Here is well attuned to that template, flush with troubled tones and unyielding urgency. Whether rocking or reflective, the sound is well served by many of the same session players that have played with him in the past—bassist Bob Glaub, guitarist Val McCallum and pedal steel player Greg Leisz chief among them. Several women share the singing, altering the dynamic but not the intention
That said, the melodies often seem as if intended only to follow the same formula, while hoping something memorable will resonate in return.
He sums his sentiment up succinctly on the decidedly despondent “Still Looking for Something”:
And I knew since I was little
The sharp edges of the world will whittle
Your dreams down to shavings at your feet
Gonna do my best not to settle
I know it’s gonna test my mettle…
If there’s one common thread in all of Browne’s work, it’s that willingness to peer within himself and drag those insecurities to the surface. Here it’s no different, and yet one has to wonder why, after all these years, he still sounds so conflicted. To his credit, he continues to crusade for the disenfranchised; on songs such as “Until Justice Is Real” and “The Dreamer,” he reasserts the activism that’s found him an outspoken advocate in years past.
Still, it’s his own underlying insecurities that appear to pique him most, as if his quest to find contentment is ultimately doomed to fail. Here again, his confessional commentary reflects disillusion and despair. I didn’t find much wisdom when time was on my side, he sighs on “A Little Too Soon To Say.” I Took a couple wrong turns — it only takes one to send you down a lifetime.
It’s a sad sentiment to be sure. If you’re going downhill in a hurry, there’s hardly any time to look up.