Jackson Browne – Running On Empty – Rhino Entertainment

by | Oct 24, 2019 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Jackson Browne – Running On Empty – Asylum Records RR! 113 (1977)/Rhino Entertainment (2019) 180-gram stereo vinyl 41:49 *****:

(Jackson Browne – guitar, piano, lead vocals; David Lindley – fiddle, lap steel guitar; Russell Kunkel – drums; Leland Sklar – bass; Craig Doerge – keyboards; Danny Kortchmar – guitar; Doug Haywood – backup vocals; Rosemary Butler – backup vocals)

As the 1970’s began, the era of the singer/songwriter was emerging. James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and Carole King were among the artists who relocated to Los Angeles. Local folk singer and songwriter Jackson Browne would be an integral part of this movement. He had been writing songs for Tim Buckley, Nico and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Browne’s introspective observations on Los Angeles culture had a universal appeal After signing with Asylum Records, Browne released a series of albums that affirmed his legacy as a folk/rock innovator. The self-titled debut (1972) included two classic tunes, “Doctor My Eyes” and “Rock Me On The Water”. The following year For Everyman featured his version of the Eagles hit “Take It Easy” that was co-written with Glen Frey. Everything came together for Browne on Late For The Sky (1974). His musical arrangements, lyrical articulation and melancholic duality were infused into compositions like “Before The Deluge”, “Fountain Of Sorrow” and “For A Dancer”. Browne’s fourth release, “The Pretender” was diverse in musical forms and produced a moderately successful single, “Here Comes Those Tears Again”. The highly personal inspiration and broader contexts were compelling.

When Jackson Browne decided to do a live album in 1977, he approached the project in an unconventional way. He offered completely new material that was recorded on stage, backstage, in hotel rooms and on the actual tour bus. Running On Empty reached #3 on Billboard Pop Album Chart, and the singles “Running On Empty” and “The Load-Out”/“Stay” reached #11 and #20 respectively. The album received two Grammy nominations in 1978, and has become part of rock history. Rhino Entertainment has released a re-mastered 180-gram vinyl of Running On Empty. Featuring the vaunted 70’s studio group The Section (Craig Doerge/keyboards; Russ Kunkel/drums; Danny Kortchmar/guitar and Leland Sklar/bass), this ensemble replaced the Wrecking Crew as the premier rock studio ensemble. Multi-instrumentalist David Lindley was added on fiddle and pedal steel which elevated the overall chemistry. Doug Haywood and Rosemary Butler provided backup vocals. Browne shared writing credits with the likes of Lowell George, Howard Burke and Donald Miller. There were songs written by Brown, but also others written by Maurice Williams, Danny Kortchmar and Danny O’Keefe.

Rhino Entertainment has produced a terrific 180-gram vinyl re-master of Running On Empty. It has a dual purpose, to bring a new set of songs (never recorded in studio), and for Browne to perform with his touring band in place of record company session players. Side One gets off to a rousing start with the title cut. This is a straight-ahead rocker with an aspirational message of life’s twists and turns. The band coheres behind Browne’s confident vocals. Lindley’s slide guitar riffs are resonant. As the singer intones”…I don’t know when that road turned onto the road I’m on…”, the listener gets the inherent duality of Browne’s songwriting. “The Road” (written by Danny O’Keefe) is a gentler folk reflection of the weariness of troubadour life. He laments about “phone calls, long distance” and you invariably “forget about the losses, you exaggerate the wins”. Lindley’s violin accents create a romantic atmosphere and the underlying acoustic guitar is elegaic. Browne performs solo (piano/voice) on the anecdotal “Rosie”. Ostensibly about losing a groupie to the drummer, a surprising turn in imagery makes this track comical and self-effacing. References about mixing the sound so the band could hear give an insider glimpse of touring. Returning to rock tempo, “You Love The Thunder” bristles with grittiness and philosophical ambivalence (“What is it that holds your life so close to mine”). This captures the essence of Browne’s reflective musing. On “Cocaine” (a Rev. Gary Davis song with additional lyrics by J.B. and Glen Frey), the musical legacy of drug bemusement and ultimate regret is examined. Arranged for country blues, guitar and fiddle tell the cautionary tale with formidable aesthetics.

Side Two underscores the versatility of Browne and his touring band. “Shaky Town” has all of the trappings of country & western with references to “eighteen wheelers”, “thin white lines” “big ten-four’ and “tomorrow, I’ll be gone”. This country rocker has a steady pulse. A certain highlight is “Love Needs A Heart”, a collaboration with the late Lowell George. An earnest plea for love, Browne performs the song as a quasi-hymnal. The backup vocals (Doug Haywood and Rosemary Butler) are captivating and a synth solo (Craig Doerge) adds a touch of funk. Sklar and Kunkel execute adroit tempo breaks. “Nothing But Time” is classic Browne in bluesy intonation. Kortchmar’s guitar riffs (here and throughout this album) are sparkling and creative. An electric piano alters the mood and this represents the most band jamming to this point. There is a memorable chorus (“…I got a bottle of wine/pass it over. I got a broken white line/I’m still sober…”) which still feel authentic 40 + years later. All great live albums have a big finish. Running On Empty is no exception. A two-song medley is crowd-pleasing and consistent with the album’s themes. On the first tune, “The Load-Out”, Browne delivers a heartfelt acknowledgement to his roadies and fans. The specific details of trusses, ramps, folding chairs and slamming doors are evocative. Browne. a gifted lyricist even manages to rhyme the word piano. His intimate connection with his chosen profession is engaging. As the band joins in, there is a transition to jaunty r & b. Butler soars on the Maurice Williams classic, “Stay”. Browne take over before David Lindley cracks up everyone with a startling falsetto. He and Kortchmar propel the band to a scintillating conclusion.

Rhino Entertainment has done an exceptional job in re-mastering Running On Empty to 180-gram vinyl. This live raw sound is captured without volume distortion. Browne’s expressive voice is at the center of the mix and sounds even. The stereo separation is flawless. Jackson Browne’s creative intellect and stage exuberance make this album a must for any rock fan.

Side One: Running On Empty; The Road; Rosie; You Love The Thunder; Cocaine
Side Two: Shaky Town; Love Needs A Heart; Nothing But Time; The Load-Out/Stay

—Robbie Gerson

Related Reviews
Logo Jazz Detective Deep Digs Animated 01
Logo Pure Pleasure