Jackson Browne has released his 14th studio album. Standing in the Breach is the most political album in Browne’s increasing leftward cultural and political career, now in his 45th year as a professional singer-songwriter.
The title song was inspired by the 2010 Haitian earthquake and the human disaster that followed, greatly aggravated by that nation’s poverty.
And though the earth may tremble
And our foundations crack
We will all assemble
And we will build them back
And rush to save the lives remaining
Still within our reach
And try to put our world together
Standing in the breach.
So many live in poverty
While others live as kings
And some may find peace
In acceptance of all that living brings
I will never understand
However they’ve prepared
How one life may be struck down
And another life be spared.
We rise and fall with the trust and belief
that love redeems us each
and bend our backs
and hearts together
standing in the breach
The song is hopeful. But unlike some earlier social and political-leaning compositions, Browne, like many Americans and democratic-minded folks across the world, increasingly feels “the devil scratching at our heels.” Even prayers receive answers that sound more like the messages Job received from the God of the Whirlwind than a more generous and interested Entity.
The outcome is not certain, and “Which side are you on?” becomes the most pertinent question as each new disaster arrives: the BP spill, Citizens United, corruption scandals, militarization of conflicts, the disappearance of the middle class. As Browne says in his song “If I Could Be Anywhere,” “Take the money out of politics, and we might see, this country turn out like something, more like democracy.”
When Bruce Springsteen gave the induction speech for Jackson Browne entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he noted, with some degree of jealousy, that no other singer in modern times had drawn more beautiful women of every race and nationality to swarm the stages of concert halls across the world. Jackson does not fail to attend to romantic side of his reputation in the new album. “The Long Way Around” takes a tour around the pleasures of lifelong relationships amidst whirlwind times. “Leaving Winslow” revisits the site of perhaps his most famous song “Take it Easy” (co-written with Glen Frey of the Eagles), but with a new perspective on, and affection for, the winners and losers, the brothers and sisters fallen, and others still standing in the wild ride of late 20th-century America.
Long-time bandmates accompanying Jackson in the studio, and on the road this fall, are Val McCallum (guitar), Mauricio Lewak (drums), Jeff Young (keyboards), and Bob Glaub (bass), with the addition of acclaimed multi-instrumentalist Greg Leisz (guitar, lap steel, pedal steel). Leisz plays in David Lindley’s classic sideman position with much of the legacy Browne material.
Jackson Browne takes the train of human and humanistic values — all the way to the end, wherever it leads.