Posts Tagged ‘Saturate Before Using’

Jackson Browne has written and performed some of the most literate and moving songs in popular music and has defined a genre of songwriting charged with honesty, emotion and personal politics. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004 and the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2007.

Except for a brief period in NYC in the late 1960s, Jackson has always lived in Southern California. His debut album came out on David Geffen’s Asylum Records in 1972. People may talk about Late For the Sky or Running On Empty, but Jackson Browne’s career starts right here with “Saturate Before Using”. In this, his first album, Browne proves to be a mellow musician, but an imaginitive and thoughtful writer.

It’s not often that a single album is sufficient to place a new performer among the first rank of recording artists. Jackson Browne’s long-awaited debut album chimes in its author with the resounding authority of an Astral Weeks, a Gasoline Alley, or an After the Gold Rush. Its awesome excellence causes one to wonder why, with Browne’s reputation as an important songwriter established as far back as 1968, this album was so long in coming. Perhaps Browne acquired performing abilities worthy of his writing skill only after much hard work. Whatever the reason, Jackson Browne is more than worth the years it took to be hatched.

I mention the possibility that Browne has honed his performing skill mainly because of a vocal style that bears a certain resemblance to Van Morrison’s. Browne may well have used Morrison as a model, because that singer’s dynamic phrasing and syntax — with those mid-phrase halts, work-packing and spreading, and drawn-out syllables — are integral parts of Browne’s style, too. The Morrison influence is most audible in “Rock Me on the Water” and “Under the Falling Sky,” with their lilting, gospel-like movement (these two would make excellent singles) but it comes across in subtler ways in several other songs.

But what might have seemed uncomfortably derivative in other hands becomes merely a sound starting point for Jackson; his artistry takes the Morrison elements to a place completely his own. For one thing, Browne’s voice is uncolored except for a bluegrass-nasality; it’s not a particularly powerful voice, either, but it’s quite flexible. That straight-faced, country-boy sound — somewhat akin to Clarence White’s in tone — lends his vocal style an endearing, innocent earnestness that enables Browne to deal with overtly romantic themes without ever coming across as self-conscious or precious.

The songs themselves reveal Browne as a classic romanticist; they’re possessed of that same earnest intensity found in his voice, and their prevailing moods are so strong that singers as diverse as Tom Rush, Johnny Darrell, Nico, and Clarence White can sing them without significantly altering their tone or substance. Browne’s songs, no matter who sings them, seem to have a life of their own. After hearing this LP, it’s clear to me that no one has done them nearly as well as Jackson himself, and it’s not likely that anyone will.

“Jamaica, Say You Will,” the opening track, is an exquisite love song, and it perfectly embodies Browne’s writing and performing approach. This narrative of the relationship between the singer and Jamaica, the daughter of a long-absent sailor. A full-chorded grand piano gives the song a rolling, even motion and a certain austerity of mood. Browne plays his voice off the piano’s restrained tone, soaring up from his own basically understated vocal in mid-verse and chorus. While the music sets the tone, Browne deftly tells the tale, his imagery charged with vivid suggestion. Jamaica and her lover share an idyllic, youthful romance in the high grass of a coastal village, but the singer feels a twinge of apprehension cut into his bliss: “Her father was a captain on the rolling seas,/She would stare across the water from the trees./The last time he was home, he held her on his knee/Told her next time they would sail together, just where they pleased…”

Inevitably, the time comes; the singer laments that one day they’d been hiding from the world together, and on the next, without warning, “They had brought her things down to the bay./What could I do?” And his callow plea in the first chorus to “Fill my empty hours” becomes a plea of teeth-gritting urgency in the third to “Fill my sails/And we will sail until our waters have run dry.” But there’s no chance of his fulfilling his dream, as he’s known all along.

Much of the dramatic force of “Jamaica” derives from its gorgeous choruses. Each chorus builds tension by offsetting its lyrical meter from the movement of the music, so that the first part of each line is packed tightly and the second part is stretched out, as here, in the second chorus:

Harmonies enter at the “Sayyy” section of each of the first three lines, accenting the rush of words that precedes them. All the tension built up by the struggle for balance between the lyrical and musical structures resolves itself gracefully in the even last line. Naturally, Browne’s single-minded delivery drives the tension to even greater heights, and the song soars. It’s as moving a love song as I’ve ever heard.

What’s astounding about this record is that there are a half dozen tracks of “Jamaica”-beauty (“Song for Adam” and “From Silver Lake” are especially affecting), and none of the ten songs is any less than brilliant and lovely. Each has the immediacy of a touch, due in part to Jackson’s first-person approach.

The music is as direct and fluid as the lyrical content. It’s arranged and played with appropriate restraint by a dozen Los Angeles session favorites, among them Sneeky Pete, Craig Doerge (his piano playing is particularly sensitive), Lee Sklar, and Russ Kunkel. David Crosby’s harmonies haven’t sounded this real since he left the Byrds. And although you’ll hear, aside from the standard acoustic guitar, piano, and bass, the sounds of electric guitar, organ, mouth harp, pedal steel, and viola, these instruments are subdued and spread carefully through the ten songs. No one get’s in Jackson’s way — it’s completely his album.

Jackson Browne’s sensibility is romantic in the best sense of the term: his songs are capable of generating a highly charged, compelling atmosphere throughout, and — just as important — of sustaining that pitch in the listener’s mind long after they’ve ended.

Jackson Browne’s sensibility is romantic in the best sense of the term: his songs are capable of generating a highly charged, compelling atmosphere throughout, and-just as important-of sustaining that pitch in the listener’s mind long after they’ve ended.
Don’t miss it. (RS 103)

Bud Scoppa, Rolling Stone, 1972

One of the reasons that Jackson Browne’s first album is among the most auspicious debuts in pop music history is that it doesn’t sound like a debut. Although only 25, Browne had kicked around the music business for several years, writing and performing as a member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and as Nico’s backup guitarist, among other gigs, while many artists recorded his material. So, if this doesn’t sound like someone’s first batch of songs, it’s not. Browne had developed an unusual use of language, casual yet full of striking imagery, and a post-apocalyptic viewpoint to go with it. He sang with a calm certainty over spare, discretely placed backup — piano, acoustic guitar, bass, drums, congas, violin, harmony vocals — that highlighted the songs and always seemed about to disappear. In song after song, Browne described the world as a desert in need of moisture, and this wet/dry dichotomy carried over into much of the imagery. In “Doctor My Eyes,” the album’s most propulsive song and a Top 10 hit, he sang, “Doctor, my eyes/Cannot see the sky/Is this the prize/For having learned how not to cry?” If Browne’s outlook was cautious, its expression was original. His conditional optimism seemed to reflect hard experience, and in the early ’70s, the aftermath of the ’60s, a lot of his listeners shared that perspective. Like any great artist, Browne articulated the tenor of his times. But the album has long since come to seem a timeless collection of reflective ballads touching on still-difficult subjects — suicide (explicitly), depression and drug use (probably), spiritual uncertainty and desperate hope — all in calm, reasoned tones, and all with an amazingly eloquent sense of language. Jackson Browne greater triumph is that, having perfectly expressed its times, it transcended those times as well. (The album features a cover depicting Browne’s face on a water bag — an appropriate reference to its desert/water imagery — containing the words “saturate before using.” Inevitably, many people began to refer to the self-titled album by that phrase, and when it was released on CD, it became official — both the disc and the jewel box read Saturate Before Using

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, playing a musical instrument and guitar

Jackson Browne is perhaps the quintessential 1970s singer-songwriter, a sensitive individual who analysed his difficult relationships into songs. On September 14th Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. will introduce Jackson Browne as he receives the Gandhi Peace Award from Promoting Enduring Peace,

He was extremely well connected into the 1970s Laurel Canyon Californian scene – he dated Laura Nyro and Joni Mitchell, wrote the Eagles’ first hit single, and produced Warren Zevon’s breakthrough album. Browne has written and recorded songs such as “These Days”, “The Pretender”, “Running on Empty”, “Lawyers in Love”, “Doctor My Eyes”, “Take It Easy”, “For a Rocker”, and “Somebody’s Baby”.

Primarily, Browne’s a lyricist, and certainly one of the best text writers in pop music, After a period in the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Browne left and after a few months and moved to Greenwich Village, New York, where he became a staff writer for Elektra Records‘ publishing company, Nina Music before his eighteenth birthday. He spent the remainder of 1967 and 1968 in Greenwich Village, where he backed Tim Buckley and singer Nico of the Velvet Underground. In 1967, Browne and Nico became romantically linked and he became a significant contributor to her debut album, Chelsea Girl, writing and playing guitar on several of the songs (including “These Days”). In 1968, following his breakup with Nico, Browne returned to Los Angeles, where he formed a folk band with Ned Doheny and Jack Wilce, and first met Glenn Frey.

Jackson Browne’s most artistically successful decade was the 1970s, during which he made five studio important studio albums. Browne’s right hand man in the 1970s was multi instrumentalist a guitarist, fiddler, and falsetto vocalist David Lindley, who enlivened Browne’s albums with his instrumental work. Browne’s voice is boyish, and not always engaging, and Lindley helped to make his records more accessible.

Jackson Browne  – Saturate Before Using (1972)

In 1971, Browne signed with his manager David Geffen’s Asylum Records and released his debut Jackson Browne (subtitled Saturate Before Using) produced and engineered by Richard Orshoff, which included the piano-driven “Doctor My Eyes” was the surprise hit, which entered the Top Ten in the US singles chart. “Rock Me on the Water”, from the same album, also gained considerable radio airplay, while “Song for Adam” (written about his friend Adam Saylor’s death) helped establish Browne’s reputation. Touring to promote the album, he shared the bill with Linda Ronstadt and Joni Mitchell.

Doctor My Eyes was Browne’s first single, and one of only two Top 10 hits he’s had, is one of the most musically upbeat songs he’s recorded, despite the bummer subject material. It’s basically a precursor to the searching, longing and disenchanted character who showed up in so many of Browne’s songs in the ’70s. It’s a little heavy-handed, as far as the sentiment goes — “Tell me what is wrong,” he sings. “Was I unwise to leave them open for so long?” — but it sets the template for almost every Top 10 Jackson Browne song.

Jackson Browne’s debut release didn’t emerge for six years after he had wrote ‘These Days’ for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. His first record, was for David Geffen’s Asylum label .The album, is his most minimal, and outside the singles, his material is simply presented – it’s the only 1970s album that guitarist David Lindley doesn’t appear on. It’s the singles that shine  was the surprise hit, but I prefer the gospel-tinged ‘Rock Me On The Water’ and the plaintive ‘Jamaica Say You Will’. 

The daughter of a captain on the rolling seas
She would stare across the water from the trees

For Everyman (1973)

Browne raided his back catalogue for his second album, featuring his well known songs like ‘These Days’ and ‘Take It Easy’ cowritten with Eagles’ Glenn Frey, had already been a major success for that group, while his own recording of “These Days” reflected a sound representing Browne’s angst. Gregg Allmanreleased a version on his 1973 albumLaid Back.But it’s Browne’s sad, plaintive take of the song — which he wrote while still a teen growing up in the mid ’60s — that nails the melancholic tone of the lyrics.

The arrangements are fuller, and David Lindley’s guitar and fiddle parts are prominent, joining The Section musicians Russ Kunkel, Craig Doerge, and Leland Sklar. Elton John plays piano on the rollicking ‘Redneck Friend’, but my favourite track here is ‘For Everyman’, a post apocalyptic vision of sailing to a new society, featuring David Crosby on backing vocals.

Everybody’s just waiting to hear from the one
Who can give them the answers
And lead them back to that place
In the warmth of the sun
Where sweet childhood still dances

Running on Empty  (1977)

Jackson Browne’s best known work is a live album of all new songs, themed around the seedy side of a musician’s life on the road. Browne was a big enough star by 1977 to take The Section and David Lindley on tour as his backing band, and the album was recorded live on stage, as well as in hotel rooms and backstage. Running on Empty was recorded entirely on tour, It became his biggest commercial success. Breaking the usual conventions for a live album, Running on Empty contains some of his most popular songs, such as the title track, “Rosie”, and “The Load-Out/Stay” (Browne’s send-off to his concert audiences and roadies). “The Load-Out” runs down the daily monotony of tour life (“We’ve got truckers on the CB/We’ve got Richard Pryor on the video/We got time to think of the ones we love, while the miles roll away”) before giving way to an exuberant cover of Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs’ 1960 No. 1 doo-wop hit featuring vocals by members of Browne’s band. Criminally, the songs were split when “Stay” was released as a single in 1978, with “The Load-Out” shoved to the flip side on later pressings.

Unusually, Browne includes covers, like a charming version of ‘Stay’ spotlighting Lindley’s falsetto vocals, and co-writers on most tracks. But the title track, one of only two Browne solo compositions, is the standout track, a sweeping, Springsteen like tale of nostalgia and determination.

Running on Empty is one of the most revolutionary live albums ever made. Instead of going through their usual set of hits and favorites, Browne and his band recorded new songs onstage, backstage, at soundchecks and wherever else inspiration might have hit them. Fittingly, most of the songs are about touring; the album doubles as a concept album about being on the road. This one, which was released as a single, sympathizes with the wives, girlfriends and groupies who are along for the ride. It’s one of his most autobiographical songs — check out the years and ages he runs through in the song and a sign of things to come. “I don’t know where I’m running now, I’m just running on”turned out to hold some truth: After three classic albums in a row, Browne turned to mostly political subjects in the ’80s with a string of mediocre records.

Look around for the friends that I used to turn to to pull me through
Looking into their eyes I see them running too

The Pretender  (1976)

Browne’s life was hit by personal tragedy during the recording of The Pretender – his wife Phyllis Major committed suicide, leaving Browne as a young solo father. These events are covered in the brief, wrenching ‘Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate’. Production duties on Browne’s fourth album are handled by Jon Landau, who gives Browne’s music more detail than usual. ‘The Fuse’ is one of my favourite Jackson Browne deep cuts, and the title track is a fascinating look forward to 1980s yuppies. The closing track of Browne’s fourth album is also a summation of sorts of the previous seven songs, a nearly six-minute breakdown of one man’s occasionally harsh, and almost always dishonest, survival instincts. He lies, he cheats, he screws, and tomorrow he’ll do the same damn thing, even if he knows there’s something morally wrong at the core of it all. All that ’60s idealism had finally given way to mid-’70s cynicism, worn down by war, Watergate and crushing dreams.

At times, Browne’s fourth album plays like a eulogy for his wife, who killed herself in early 1976; at other times, it plays like a eulogy for his growing disillusionment with the leftover and broken promises from the idealistic ’60s. This song — one of the best Jackson Browne songs, a Top 25 single co-written by his late wife’s mother — falls into the former category, as Browne futilely tries to hide the scars of his broken heart. He’s bitter, angry and not ready to forgive. But most of all he’s at his most revealing here.

But my favourite track is ‘Your Bright Baby Blues’, with its warm arrangements and amazing backing band; Little Feat’s Lowell George is prominent on slide guitar and backing vocals, Bill Payne on organ, E-Street Band’s Roy Bittan on piano, Chuck Rainey on bass, and Jim Gordon on drums.

No matter how fast I run
I can never seem
To get away from me

Late For The Sky (1974)

Jackson Browne attained maximum Jackson Browne-ness with his third album, featuring gorgeous meditations on death and the apocalypse, accompanied by David Lindley’s guitar and fiddle. To save his label money after the expensive For Everyman, Browne used his live band, and they sound great.  Browne’s work began to demonstrate a reputation for memorable melody, insightful, often very personal lyrics, and a talent for his arrangements in composition. Apart from the mundane rocker ‘Walking Slow’, every track is strong, and mournful expositions like ‘For A Dancer’ and ‘Fountain of Sorrow’ are prime Browne. Highlights included the title song, the elegiac “For a Dancer”, and “Before the Deluge”, . The arrangements featured the violin and guitar of David Lindley, Jai Winding’s piano, and the harmonies of Doug Haywood. The title track was also featured in Martin Scorsese’s film Taxi Driver. During this period, Browne began his fractious but lifelong professional relationship with singer-songwriter Warren Zevon, mentoring Zevon’s first two Asylum albums through the studio as a producer (working closely with Waddy Wachtel and Jorge Calderón).

Much of Jackson Browne’s songs on his terrific third album play like a deep, despairing farewell to an old love. This song — one of the album’s many centerpieces — piles on the apocalyptic dread. It could be heralding the end of a relationship … or maybe something much, much bigger. In a way, it foreshadows themes of growing up and out of youthful idealism found on The Pretender, and Running on Empty, but with more widespread and cataclysmic results.

But my favourite song is the title track, especially the moment when Browne’s voice cracks on the final note.

How long have I been sleeping?

Browne’s epic opener to his third album sets the tone for a record that plays like one long breakup montage. This is a key track in the story — the moment where that tiny glimmer of hope is wiped out by cold, hard reality. The song also plays a pivotal part in the movie Taxi Driver,underscoring a scene in which Robert De Niro’s brooding sociopath loses what’s left of his loose grip on reality. Not sure if this is what Browne had in mind for the song, but it serves a similar purpose.