Downhill From Everywhere (Inside Recordings)
It may be 50 years, 10 presidents, half a dozen recessions, innumerable environmental crises and plagues, and even more love affairs since his first album, but Jackson Browne still has causes, still has cause.
He tells us in this album’s opener, that he is “still looking for something”, said with enthusiasm and energy, not the enervation of a disgruntled septuagenarian, even if he suggests that saying it at all comes as something of a surprise given he is “over my due date”.
And, within the bounds of music that naturally falls into the mellow saunter of his golden years (played precisely and smoothly by LA’s finest session pros, some of whom go back decades with him), Downhill From Everywhere feels enthused and energised.
Songs range across the personal and political, offering new love (yes, even at 72, which we are to gather is somewhat in advance of his current paramour’s age), thoughts on the immigrant experience in and just outside the USA, the Catalan quest for independence (with a nod to his own immigrant family history), and somehow even touching on the world’s balancing act of ennui and wavering hope in 18 months of a covid world.
That latter one is something given the songs were recorded prior to the hellscape arriving. Prescient? Maybe it’s just that we, and the problems we make for ourselves, are neither new nor unknown to Browne who has consistently, even to his detriment, demanded we talk about things, whether they be nuclear, racial, economic or just uncomfortable emotions.
While he has been prepared to lecture in the past and earnestness has not been a stranger, Browne has a lighter touch here, whether it’s talking about finding himself closer to the end of life than its middle (but still capable of winning a lover) in the positive Minutes To Downtown, and wondering if a mechanical, unfeeling heart might be a better tool for life in the droll, almost Zevon-esque My Cleveland Heart, to a blend of ‘70s Rolling Stones and Jacques Cousteau (!) in the environmentally aware title track, and the smugness-free generational observations in A Little Soon To Say.
Even when he does mount a soapbox, in Until Justice Is Real - where some slide guitar is the cleanskin in a surprisingly dirt-smudged bit of rock ‘n’ roll - there is a sense of rightness to his BLM/Trump-era righteousness as he prods us to ask “What is wellbeing, what is health?/What is illusion and what is true?/What is my purpose, what can I do?”
What hasn’t changed, even allowing for the Mexican ballad influences in The Dreamer and the more pronounced Latin rhythm and instrumentation of A Song For Barcelona, is his comfortable moves in the middle lane of American pop rock. If your encounters with Browne over the years have been a peak moments like The Pretender and Running On Empty, or Lawyers In Love and the self-titled debut, this will slide into your DMs comfortably.
What seemingly never will change, is his voice, which sounds pretty unmarked by 72 years or his recent bout of Covid. Well, his voice and the fact he keeps finding reasons to go again, probably outliving another couple of presidents.
A version of this review originally ran in The Sydney Morning Herald