As both the precocious bard and poet laureate of the Laurel Canyon elite, Jackson Browne's late-'60s/early-'70s repertoire found him standing shoulder to shoulder with the other notables of the day. With peers like Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, Browne helped to define the West Coast singer/songwriter oeuvre. He first polished his craft though penning songs for others, including the Eagles (for whom he helped compose the breakthrough hit "Take It Easy"), the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the Byrds, and ex-Velvet Underground chanteuse and occasional lover Nico. On the strength of those tunes, he was signed to David Geffen's fledgling Geffen Records.
Browne soon created a sweep of stirring solo albums, imbued with a thoughtful but freewheeling attitude that veered from introspective rumination to unflinching angst, all accentuated by a heady infusion of infectious melodies and soap opera sensibilities. As the '70s came to a close and a shattered relationship with actress Daryl Hannah played out in public, Browne retreated into the shadows, both literally and figuratively. His political anthems overpowered songs about wounded romance, and his personal passions became directed to any number of social causes.
With the release of two recent live acoustic retrospectives, Browne ultimately reminds us it was his confessional vulnerability and willingness to bare his soul that has always endeared him to his legions of fans. Just reexamine the restless resolve of "These Days" and "Doctor My Eyes," the road-weary perseverance of "Running on Empty," the painful and repentant musings of "Fountain of Sorrow" and "The Pretender," or the celebratory optimism of "Rock Me on the Water." As an artist who helped articulate an uneasy generation's attempt to grapple with the darker realities of maturity and responsibility, Browne remains nothing less than an artist for the ages.
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