During the late 1960s and early 1970s something in music happened, which is often called the “Southern California singer-songwriter Movement”. Jackson Browne certainly became one of the best known musicians of this movement. In 1966, he got his start in the music industry when he joined the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, a country folk band that also recorded as The Dirt Band.
After becoming a success in the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, he became an accomplished songwriter, writing material for band like The Eagles and The Byrds. He later moved to Greenwich Village in New York, and joined Tim Buckley (Jeff Buckley’s father)’s backup band, and later formed another folk band.
Finally, in 1971 he was signed to a label and released Jackson Browne
, which became a hit with songs like “Doctor My Eyes” and “Rock Me on the Water”. Unfortunately, his next album For Everyman
was a commercial failure.
Running on Empty
became his fifth release, and is essentially a live album. However, what makes this particular album unique, is that included with some songs that are live recordings, others were recorded in hotel rooms, and backstage at his concerts. Another interesting point is that none of the songs had ever appeared on previous albums before it. It is evident that this isn’t just your regular live album.
The album really captures the feeling of being a traveling musician on the road. It’s almost like a concept album, if you will. There are high times, and low times. The album really showcases Browne’s talent as a songwriter, and musician. The melodies on this album are some of the best I have ever heard. The harmonies that go along with those amazing melodies are just exactly right. Everything just happens as you would want it, but it is no where close to being a predictable album.
The album kicks off with “Running on Empty” which is an upbeat song that just reminds you of zooming down a highway, and just relaxing with some friends and enjoying the scenery. Browne’s lyrics have always stood out to me, because they are so honest and true. You know that he is writing songs about things that he has experienced. He sings with the sort of feeling that only a few singers have. His songs are very personal, and you can really understand the ideas that he is trying to get across to the listener.
The next few songs are quite mellow, and really make you think. On the track “The Road” (obviously about being a musician on the road touring), Browne is playing acoustic guitar, and is accompanied by Fiddle. When you think of the subject matter of the song, it makes sense that this one was recorded in room 301 of the Cross Keys Inn in Columbia, Maryland. However, another interesting aspect is that the song then goes into the live version of the song seamlessly, where Browne is then joined by the rest of his band.
We see the same sort of thing happening all throughout the album. In fact, the next song “Rosie” was recorded backstage at one of his shows. “Cocaine” and “Shaky Town” were both recorded in the room 124 at the Holiday Inn in Edwardsville, Illinois.
Of course, what album about a musician on tour could be complete without songs about drugs? That’s right, none. “Cocaine” is one of my favorite songs on the entire album. It starts out with some bluesy playing by Browne, and he is again accompanied by some of the most beautiful fiddle playing I have ever heard. About half way through, the song picks up a bit, and more instruments join into the mix.
Over all, this is a beautiful album that really holds your attention. It has elements of Folk, Rock, Blues and Country. The playing by all of the musicians is wonderful, and all of the voices are in top shape. This album not only delivers musically, but also has one of the coolest concepts I’ve ever seen surrounding the songs on it, and where they were recorded. I really recommend listening to this one.