March 13, 2008

Album Review: Jackson Browne - Solo Acoustic, Vol. 2

If you’ve taken in one of Jackson Browne’s solo acoustic performances, you’re well aware of the distinct pleasure of that experience. A visceral energy fills the concert hall – an altogether different vibe than that of a show with a full band – where the audience is collectively invested and steeped in each song.

In 2005, Browne released Solo Acoustic, Vol. 1, which brilliantly showcased classics like “Fountain of Sorrow,” “Your Bright Baby Blues,” and “For A Dancer” in the context of these unique events. And now, the legendary singer/songwriter delivers an equally spectacular set of hits and album cuts on Solo Acoustic, Vol. 2.

The live and acoustic setting certainly reflects an intimate feel, yet the warm rapport between artist and audience comes across all the more. Browne’s gracious and often-amusing interaction with the crowd is included between some tracks, adding spontaneity and perspective to songs. Further, he doesn’t rely on a setlist, instead playing what he prefers or – more often than not – taking requests. “Oh, you want to hear that?” he asks before settling into “Somebody’s Baby” on the piano. Sometimes a request is more obscure, like one for “Redneck Friend,” but he obliges with a potent performance.

Alternating between piano and several acoustic guitars, Browne offers absorbing and soulful renditions of some of his finest compositions. On “Sky Blue and Black,” he immerses himself in the song’s sweeping melody, his voice rich with compassion. He plays “Alive In the World” and “In the Shape of a Heart” with similar conviction and conscience, painting both songs with fresh perception.

Four of the twelve tracks originated on Browne’s most recent studio release, The Naked Ride Home. Considering the breadth of his back catalog, that’s a large portion to pull from one album – especially one not considered among his seminal works – but the songs hold up surprisingly well. “The Night Inside Me” and “My Stunning Mystery Companion,” in particular, sound as relevant and touching as almost anything else on this collection.

While Solo Acoustic, Vol. 2 serves as the logical complement to its predecessor, it firmly stands on its own as an outstanding live album. Jackson Browne represents a masterful songwriter delivering one great song after another. Few do it this well and with this much integrity.