It was only a matter of time until Jackson Browne
turned his attention to an archival endeavor devoted to his self-titled debut album. Having plumbed the vault for his masterwork, Late For The Sky
(Inside Recordings, 2014), then a re-release of his most commercially-successful record, Running On Empty
(Inside Recordings, 2019) five years later, he may have been saving what he considers his best for last (unless and until he turns his attention to his brilliant sophomore outing For Everyman
Over the course of the fifty-plus years since it came out, the first album by the poet laureate of California folk-rock has not often been mentioned in discussions of landmark debut albums, but it should be. This collection of ten original songs (often referred to mistakenly as 'Saturate Before Using' based on its cover graphic), fulfills both the promise and the expectations which arose prior to its release. Apart from the understated inference of its final track, "My Opening Farewell," it works faultlessly as a song cycle without an overt reference to such a concept.
In fact, it is the drama inherent in the compositions, rendered tangible in the arrangements, performances and production, which imbue the album with its continuity. Accordingly, while moments such as the performance of "Song For Adam" sound completely personalrumination on the apparent suicide of an acquaintancerepeated listenings divulge more universal meanings, largely through the intimacy of the author's vocal. Viola by David Campbell on the latter cut adds to the effect.
Jackson Browne would come to hone a remarkable feel for such profound moments in life, those which become pivotal in the very instant they occur. "My Opening Farewell," for example, sounds so deeply introspective, it is as if time has frozen to allow the undercurrent of passion in play to flow freely from the author's voice, then sink in with the listener. Likewise, with its earthy undertow, "Under the Falling Sky" paints a vivid and readily-identifiable image of deep human connection.
Browne also reveals an equally nuanced eye for emotional detail on "Something Fine" and "A Child In These Hills." Of course, that is all in keeping with his sure grasp of the English language; the sophisticated intricacy of the words he chooses, as on "From Silverlake," finds its counterpart in the nuanced production of the record by producer and engineer Richard Sanford Orshoff.
The near-audiophile sound of this remaster belies the notion that listening closely to Jackson Browne involves only strict attention to the lyrics. The sonic mix allows space between the instruments so that guitars and keyboards, such as Craig Doerge's piano on three cuts, resonate as deeply in their own melodic way as the lower tones of bass and drums.
The foundation upon which all the other instrumentalists rest, the rhythm section of bassist Leland Sklar
and drummer Russ Kunkel
is more felt than heard. Virtually as unobtrusive is Jesse Ed Davis
' finely-crafted guitar work on "Doctor My Eyes"one of the best-known numbers here and certainly the most upbeat with its popping percussionas well as the late Clarence White
's acoustic guitar picking on "Jamaica Say You Will."
Meanwhile, even as Browne's own piano playing adds the proper solemnity to the proceedings, one-time Flying Burrito Brother Sneaky Pete Kleinow inserts suitably slinky lines into "Looking Into You" with his pedal steel playing. At the same time, vocal harmonies of David Crosby
echo the dignity of Browne's own singing; like the musicianship, this singing is as subtle and sensitive as the song(s).
Based on the fledgling artist's previous work on behalf of othersincluding Andy Warhol's contemporary Nico, and collaborations with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (whose co-founder Jimmie Fadden chips in with harmonica)anticipation grew quite high for Jackson Browne. Certainly, as one of the inaugural releases on David Geffen's Asylum Records (also home to Joni Mitchell and the Eagles
, among others), it received the attention it was due and then some.
Yet it is only in the form of this reissuereleased with notably little fanfare but with oversight by the artist himself (on his own Inside Recordings imprint)that the package receives fitting details. A slightly rough, textured finish replicates that of the original album cover, and there is a triple-fold layout which allows printing of all the lyrics inside. In addition, the disc sleeve itself features the image of blue water which appeared on that same component over fifty years ago.
'Better late than never' is the sort of trite truism which Jackson Browne has studiously avoided over the course of his career. Nonetheless, the graphic and technical reformatting of his first album restores truth to that cliche in no uncertain terms.
Jamaica Say You Will; A Child In These Hills; Song for Adam; Doctor My Eyes;
Something Fine; From Silverlake; Under The Falling Sky; Looking into You; Rock Me
On The Water; My Opening Farewell.
Jackson Browne: piano, vocals; David Crosby: harmony vocals; Sneaky Pete Kleinow:
pedal steel guitar; Jim Gordon: organ; Leah Kunkel:vocals; Russ Kunkel; congas.
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