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CD Reviews: Review of Running On Empty by Jackson Browne
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Click here to buy yourself a copy from Amazon.com Jackson Browne: Running On Empty (Electra/Rhino  2005)

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Jackson Browne is one of those musical artists who falls into two camps: sensitive singer/songwriter, a la James Taylor (thereby making him one of the culprits responsible for Denis Leary ending up in Colorado wearing hiking boots and eating granola during the mid-‘70s), and Southern California rocker. It’s the latter category which put him in the company of the Eagles and, like them, he became a staple of classic rock stations, a status he retains to this day. Unlike Glenn, Don, and the boys, however, he managed to survive into the ‘80s and the era of MTV, and, as a result – for better or worse – a lot of people only remember him for the cheesy video he made for “Lawyers in Love.”

In fact, Browne’s got a hell of a history. He was a member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band for a few months, played in Tim Buckley’s backing band, worked with Nico (and not just musically, if you know what I’m saying, wink-wink, nudge-nudge), and had his songs recorded by Tom Rush, Linda Ronstadt, and the Byrds, among others.

When it comes to selecting the best from Browne’s discography, lots of folks say it’s Late for the Sky, while some cynics claim he’s never topped his debut, but there’s ample reason to suggest it’s Running on Empty, which has just been released as a CD / DVD combo via Elektra and Rhino.

Running on Empty is, arguably, the definitive “road” album, or at the very least, the definitive “road” album from the ‘70s. Indeed, it was groundbreaking in that the songs were actually recorded while Browne was on tour. It’s not, however, a traditional live album. For one, none of the songs had ever been released before, and, for another, much of it wasn’t even recorded on stage.

  • “The Road” was recorded in Room 301 at the cross Keys Inn, in Columbia, MD.
  • “Rosie” was recorded backstage at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, in   Saratoga Springs, NY.
  • “Cocaine” was recorded in Room 124 at the Holiday Inn, in Edwardsville, IL, as was “Shaky Town.”
  • “Nothing But Time” was recorded on a bus – a Continental Silver Eagle, it specifies in the liner notes – somewhere in New Jersey.
This tactic has been borrowed by other artists over the years...one that leaps immediately to mind is R.E.M.’s New Adventures for Hi-Fi...but Browne’s version is unique because the songs are truly about his experiences on the road. There’s the title cut, which references how he’d been creatively stymied, “Love Needs a Heart” and “Rosie,” both lamenting how touring affects love and romance, and “Cocaine” discusses...well, the ‘70s were all about pharmaceutical indulgence, you know. “Shaky Town” and “Nothing But Time” tackle the long hours spent traveling, and “The Road,” well, is kind of self-explanatory, while the closing track, “The Load Out” (which segues into a cover of the Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs song, “Stay”), is basically an ode to the roadies.

But the band's on the bus
And they're waiting to go
We've got to drive all night and do a show in Chicago
Or Detroit, I don't know
We do so many shows in a row
And these towns all look the same
We just pass the time in our hotel rooms
And wander 'round backstage
Till those lights come up and we hear that crowd
And we remember why we came

The DVD included with this set features two additional songs recorded during the era – “Cocaine Again” and “Edwardsville Room 124” – but, for no discernable reason, they only appear on the DVD; they’re not on the CD. This is more than a little bizarre; if the fans are spending the money on the set, anyway, why not put them on both? Very strange, indeed.

Running on Empty is an undeniable classic of the ‘70s...and not just its opening and closing tracks. In particular, “You Love The Thunder,” which was only a minor hit single at the time (it didn’t even crack the Top 100), is one of those songs that’s so great that you can’t imagine why you’ve never heard it before, even though it’s almost 30 years old. If you were busy focusing on the Clash, the Damned, and the Sex Pistols in the mid-‘70s and were all, like, “Fuck Jackson Browne, he’s for pussies,” well, that was a long time ago. You’re older, you’ve mellowed, and this re-issue is a good way to find out what you missed. 

~Will Harris 


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