With dozens of tribute albums floating around, often feting the work of lesser songwriters, it’s astonishing that no one has yet paid respect to Jackson Browne, one of folk/rock’s most talented, respected and gifted artists. Thankfully this two disc package does a magnificent job where many attempts for other well-musicians come up woefully short.
That’s partially because the acts are particularly well chosen. They range from Browne’s contemporaries (Bruce Springsteen, JD Souther, Bonnie Raitt), to younger acolytes (Nickel Creek’s Sean and Sara Watkins, Venice) and those that fall in-between (Marc Cohen, Ben Harper, Joan Osborne). Additionally, the project’s coordinator and Music Road label owner, Keley Warren, let the performers use their own backing players, giving these versions a noticeably organic approach. And then of course there are Browne’s enduring songs, none the least bit dated.
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Even though the 23 selections stick largely to the singer/songwriter’s earlier output (five tracks originate from the 24 year olds’ wise-beyond-his-years 1972 debut, most of the rest are from pre-1980 releases), this remains Browne’s most durable and influential material. The covers generally don’t vary greatly from the original arrangements and there is a decided shortage of rockers in the set (Bob Schneider’s “Running on Empty” retools the tune as a ballad, “Boulevard” is conspicuous in its absence), with Paul Thorn’s rollicking, slide guitar driven “Doctor My Eyes” about as raucous as things get. Regardless, the hit to miss ratio is far better than for most of these tributes with everyone turning in committed, emotionally charged and occasionally revelatory performances. Highlights are Jimmy LaFave’s touching “For Everyman,” the Indigo Girls’ perky, nearly eight minute “Fountain of Sorrow” and a take of “The Pretender” by Lucinda Williams that slows down the tempo while ratcheting up the song’s inherent remorse with her slurred, always incisive voice. Don Henley pays Browne back for co-penning his band’s early single “Take it Easy” with a lovely, horn and vibe enhanced “These Days.”
Those previously not exposed to Browne’s music, or fans of these performers he influenced, can start here for a terrific taste of one of America’s most stunning and keen lyricists. Then immerse yourself in the artist’s complete catalog for a fuller appreciation of his timeless talents and songs that remain as perceptive, intriguing and melodically inventive as when they were first recorded.