Late for the Sky

Browne, Jackson

album cover

Self-Inquiry as Art

Jackson Browne has the ability to sing about fantastic tangles of emotions and make it seem as if he's been there—or, more impressively, is there still. His songs examine messes in progress, and relationships that unravel unexpectedly. The action might be limited, but Browne keeps close watch on the emotional temperature: By the end of one of his epics (like, say, "Before the Deluge" here) you may feel wrung out, like you've just lived through a two-hanky feature film.

And at the same time you're enriched, because Browne, the most introspective of the California singer-songwriters, has a way of drawing illumination (if not consolation) out of painful circumstances. On the classic Late for the Sky, his third effort, the songs are the surprisingly unself-conscious thoughts of a lost seeker—someone who's out there by himself, running down the big questions. This inquiry leads him into the minefields of memory ("Fountain of Sorrow," in which a photograph opens the floodgates) and extended, voyeuristic character studies ("For a Dancer," perhaps the most beautiful song in Browne's book).

If you only get to hear one Browne song in your life, make it "The Late Show," which suggests that Browne, known primarily as a word guy, has a knack for the cinematic. The mood is all pent-up restlessness. Browne's protagonist is waiting in the car ("let's just say an early model Chevrolet"), trying to convince his lover that it's time to escape.

"You go and pack your sorrows," he tells her. "The trash man comes tomorrow./Leave it by the curb, and we'll just pull away." At that culminating moment, where you'd expect a massive swell, the music becomes eerily placid. A piano plinks calmly. The next sound is a perfectly timed car door slamming, which kicks things into overdrive. Skies part. Motor revs. And guitarist David Lindley, Browne's secret weapon, serves up poignant weeping leads that send the couple riding off into the L.A. sunset, destination unknown.

Genre: Rock
Released: 1974, Asylum
Key Tracks: "The Late Show," "For a Dancer," "Fountain of Sorrow."
Catalog Choice: Running on Empty; Jackson Browne.
Next Stop: Neil Young: After the Gold Rush
After That: David Baerwald: Triage.
Book Pages: 124–125

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