You can’t deny that the last couple of years have been difficult times for musicians, but the creative impulse won’t be stifled. Artists will take the clay that’s available and use it to fashion their creations. The Trump years spawned many memorable albums, then musicians found different ways of working through a pandemic with very little personal interaction to help the process. Steve Dawson’s raw material for “At the Bottom of a Canyon in the Branches of a Tree” came from a different place. Following a family tragedy, he took an extended sabbatical to decide whether he wanted to continue writing and performing. A songwriting retreat with Richard Thompson and Patty Griffin gave him the answer he needed and he found his clay (mainly) in his own personal experiences.

The album’s quite unusual in that it’s almost entirely the work of Steve Dawson; there are no co-writes or covers and only three other musicians make cameo appearances. Apart from Alton Smith’s piano on a couple of songs, Michael Miles’ banjo on “The Spaces In Between” and a Diane Christiansen vocal on “We Are Walking in a Forest”, every hook, lick and vocal is Steve Dawson. Quite apart from the instrumental versatility, showcases Steve’s vocal range from the easy, languid tenor into high falsetto. Steve’s voice evokes the classic American west coast country rock bands, sounding at times like Don Henley or Randy Meisner and there’s the occasional nod in the direction of Jackson Browne as the album pulls off the trick of sounding vaguely familiar while constantly introducing new ideas and sounds.

The settings for the songs are pretty laid-back, with nods towards sixties/seventies soul in “This Is All There Is”, psychedelia in “Beautiful Mathematics”, Crazy Horse in the title track and Jackson Browne on “Hard Time Friend”, which has a breakdown and restart two-thirds of the way through that feels a lot like the last section of JB’s “The Late Show” (one of Springsteen’s favourite recorded moments). The musical settings are incredibly varied, with some interesting keyboard instruments appearing (mellotron and dulcimer for a start), creating the perfect ambience for each of the songs.

The album could easily have been a fairly depressing experience, with songs about COVID deaths and forced positivity (“This Is All There Is”), dysfunctional families (“She Knew”) and the limitations of the forgiving gesture (“Forgiveness is Nothing Like I thought it Would Be”), but Steve leavens the mixture with the resoundingly upbeat “22 Rubber Bands”, a song about his love for his daughter, and “Hard Time Friend”, dedicated to his friend Diane Christiansen, celebrating the friends who are with us through times that are good or bad, happy or sad. There are two bonus CD and download songs which didn’t make the vinyl cut for reasons that have nothing to do with quality; “You’re Trying Too Hard”, which nails fake authenticity, and “However Long it Takes”, a reminder that we can always choose to see the good things in the world rather than the negativity which so often surrounds us.

Twelve tracks, fourteen if you buy the CD or download, and each one with an interesting arrangement and lyrics conveying ideas that are important to Steve Dawson, as they should be to all of us. It’s ironic to think that this bunch of songs were created by someone who had started to doubt his creative abilities.

“At the Bottom of a Canyon in the Branches of a Tree” is released on Pravda Records (PR6419) on Friday July 16th.

Here’s the animated video for “22 Rubber Bands”:

Authenticity’s something that’s often claimed but not always delivered. Not in this case; “Shadow Land” is a powerful and often disturbing collection of songs with a wide variety of themes. And the authenticity isn’t just in the lived experience of Ben de la Cour, although his life suffuses the songs. It’s also in the way the album was made; virtually all of it was recorded live. Brave, perhaps, but vibrant and raw when it’s done well. On “Shadow Land”, it’s done very, very well.

This isn’t a gentle, introspective album of reflective songs tinged with melancholy like Jackson Browne and James Taylor in the seventies. Their hell-raising generally didn’t make it directly into the songs (unless you count “Cocaine” on “Running on Empty”). With Ben de la Cour, it’s a different matter. It doesn’t matter how deep the barrel is, he’ll siphon out the most bitter dregs, then create potent songs from them. If you wanted a more current comparison, Ben has a lot in common with Michael McDermott both in the life lived and in the breadth of musical stylings they use to get the songs across.

“Shadow Land” moves effortlessly from the gentle triple-time pathos of another barely-mourned suicide in “Swan Dive” to the terrifying, hallucinatory “Harmless Indian Medicine Blues” sounding like a half-speed, minor key “Telegram Sam” played by Black Sabbath, with a side order of raw sax. And while we’re on the subject of terrifying, “Basin Lounge” is a full-on, full band romp through the story of a night in one of those bars that sensible people don’t visit, complete with cocaine references. It’s on the edge of falling apart at any time and conveys the stimulant headrush perfectly when the manic guitar solo kicks in.

The album isn’t just about the personal. There’s a smattering of murder ballads in there as well. The album opens with “God’s Only Son”, the tale of double-crossing bank robbers set to an Ennio Morricone-style arrangement, complete with whistling and mandolin while “Amazing Grace (Slight Return)” is a much more mellow take on a hushed-up murder in a small town. There’s also a takedown of corporate greed in the swamp-rock of “In God We Trust … All Others Pay Cash”, but the focus is mainly on the searingly honest depictions life in general and of the Janus faces of dependency and recovery in particular.

Two of the standouts in this vein are “The Last Chance Farm”, a gentle, bleak story of two characters meeting in rehab and the title song with its dystopic alienation and a perfect description of eternal damnation: ‘The Revolutionary Suicide Jazz Band plays all night long’. It certainly sounds a lot like Hell to me.

“Shadow Land” isn’t an easy listen; it’s not meant to be. It’s the product of a difficult life and Ben de la Cour doesn’t shy away from honest depiction of this life. The musical settings are perfect for the subject matter of the songs from the terrible clarity and Jack London references of “Valley of the Moon” to the raw rock and hedonism of “Basin Lounge”. You never know quite what’s coming next; it could be Townes Van Zandt, it could be Nick Cave. Whatever it is, it won’t be dull.

If you like your albums spiced with a murder ballad or two, a touch of the supernatural, terrifying stories of substance abuse, suicide, alienation, Armageddon and cross-dressing, then it’s your lucky day.

“Shadow Land” is released in the UK on Friday April 9th on Flour Sack Cape Records (FSCR-0010).

As a special treat, here’s the video clip for “Harmless Indian Medicine Blues”:

It’s drizzling, freezing and absolutely miserable in the UK at the moment, so that would be the perfect time to listen to an album straight out of 1970s Laurel Canyon via 2020s British Columbia. There are more influences on the album than the Jackson Browne/Eagles/Linda Ronstadt coterie but the album still glows with sunshine of The Golden State, even though its creators Heather Read and Jonny Miller have fairly nebulous Californian connections but, hey, the first two Eagles albums were produced by Glyn Johns at Olympic Studios in London, while Peach & Quiet’s “Just Beyond the Shine” was put together with the help of producer and multi-instrumentalist Steve Dawson in Nashville, Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria. All of the songs are written by Heather, Jonny or both apart from the album’s closer, “Seven Daffodils”, written by Lee Hays and Fran Moseley.

The sun breaks through from the opening notes of the Byrds/Tom Petty-inflected opener, “Empty to Fill” and its poetic exploration of the contradictions and complexity of human beings. From there it’s almost constant Oakley and Ray-Ban stuff, with the exception of the slightly menacing Southern-influenced “Shoreline After A Storm” likening a bad relationship to a storm – they can both inflict terrible damage and leave a messy aftermath. There’s a little hint of “I Put A Spell on You” in there as well.

The songwriting is superb throughout, from the fairly straightforward love song “There’s A Very Good Chance” with its lovely Everlys harmonies to the more complex “Flowers”, which is based on the children’s book “Mr Cat and the Little Girl” which deals with love and loss which has a folky Byrds styling with a relatively complex arrangement that even features a bit of glockenspiel, courtesy of Steve Dawson.

There are themes running though the album; lyrically it’s all about love, whether it’s love for a partner who’s on stage every night (“Lucky in Love”) or for a place (“California Way”). The song arrangements are in the Eagles/Linda Ronstadt mode with layers of electric and acoustic guitars and some absolutely gorgeous harmonies, either as duets or as multi-tracked layers. There’s absolutely nothing out of place on this album.

And, as I finish this review, there’s no rain, and the sun is shining; that was pretty impressive work, guys. This album’s combination of superbly-crafted songs and subtle Laurel Canyon-era  arrangements is the perfect antidote to winter on either side of the Atlantic.

“Just Beyond the Shine” is released on January 15th 2012 on Peach & Quiet Music (P&QCD001).

Here’s the video for “Empty to Fill”:

 

Andy Fleet isn’t the most prolific of album artists; his last album was in 2013. Which doesn’t really matter; his musical world is not ruled by release schedules, so why not release albums when you’re happy you’ve created something that people will want to listen to and appreciate. And I need to apologise here, this album has been out since March but somehow managed to avoid my attention until now and that’s my loss because “The Sleepless Kind” is a little gem of an album, the kind you want to listen to again and again. Even the cover is a nice piece of art by Alban Low inspired by the song ”Through Closed Eyes”.

The title tells the story; the theme of the album is the night and particularly the musicians who try to scratch a living in those hours of darkness, and those who make the bleary-eyed commuter journey to a day job that enables them to play another night. “The Sleepless Kind” is a tribute to those people who make music because they love making music. Is there a better reason?

The Sleepless Kind” (which tops and tails the album) is a dreamy instrumental that sounds like it should soundtrack a Raymond Chandler story: gentle piano and moody, muted trumpet of Andre Canniere combine to paint a picture of a jazz club in the early hours, when you stop worrying about the last train and start thinking about the first train.

The remaining seven songs demonstrate the wide variety of influences feeding into Andy Fleet’s unique style. The band is superb with the slower, more evocative songs but goes up through the gears really smoothly for the more uptempo songs , such as “Been There, Drunk That” and the rollicking seventies, horn-driven groove of “Love’s Enemy”, which tells the story of a collector in a style that hints at Al Stewart and maybe even Gerry Rafferty. “Stolen Years”, a John Lennon tribute, hints at Thunderclap Newman, but “The Hobbyist” and “Through Closed Eyes” are the absolute pivot of the album.

The Hobbyist” is a powerful tribute to Andy’s friend, the late Iain Bull, opening with some Jackson Browne-like piano, while “Through Closed Eyes” opens with a with a fairly traditional jazz set-up of keys, bass, drums (with brushes, initially) and trumpet and spins out its groove for nearly eight gorgeous minutes, telling the story of the London night from the perspective of an owl, silently watching over the neon-lit streets.

Mainly jazz-orientated, “The Sleepless Kind” also hints at blues, rock, pop and soul. The musicianship is superb throughout, never over-played, and the songs are well-constructed and meaningful. The album oozes class and rewards close attention. One to listen to in the small hours with a single malt close at hand.

“The Sleepless Kind” is out now on Low Vinyl Records (LV1608).

And here’s a little video snippet for you:

 

If you want reference points for “Pigeon and the Crow”, I’d go for something between “Sweet Baby James” and “Graceland”. It has the simple, laid-back feel of James Taylor and the experimental rhythms and instrumentation of Paul Simon’s classic. There’s a lot going on, but it never feels cluttered or claustrophobic. There’s something that sets this album apart from the two classics, and it’s the lyrical invention of Nels Andrews’ songs, which are mostly allegorical and metaphorical rather than following straight-line narratives and it makes for a very interesting mixture. It’s a compulsive and beguiling set of songs. And before we move away from the comparisons, you could say that there are hints of Jackson Browne, and Nels’ voice at times sounds a lot like Ian (or Iain) Matthews at the time he was trying to crack the American market in the seventies.

The press pack for the album contains a lyric sheet for the album (it’s in the album packaging as well), but also a very helpful set of writer’s notes for each song, which share the sort of detail you would never pick up on otherwise. “The Lion’s Jaws” is based on the story of an in-law who, at one time, was the only Jewish lion-tamer in history, which is an interesting coincidence, given that Scottish singer-songwriter Dean Owens (recently reviewed here) has also written about a not-too-distant ancestor who was a lion-tamer.

To get some idea of the musical variety of the album, you only need to take a look at the credits. There are thirteen musicians involved and a list of fourteen instruments (not including the many under the umbrella of percussion) from various musical traditions including kora, steel pan, harmonium and flute; it’s not just a lot of instruments, it’s a lot of musical styles melding together seamlessly by producer, flautist and singer Nuala Kennedy.

Highlights? The title song’s hard to beat, with its supernatural love story theme and its lilting Gaelic feel; the opener “Scrimshaw” in triple time and with mid-life memories of happiness and regrets is a perfect evocation of the singer-songwriter genre, and the slightly rockier “Table by the Kitchen” is a fiddle-led, fear-of-missing-out anthem satirising the me generation. What remains in the memory when you reach the end of the album, is the sheer variety of musical settings used to project these songs and support Nels’ mellifluous voice and the way that none of it seems out of place.

“Pigeon and the Crow” is out now.

“Blood Brothers” has a very familiar sound; it’s the sound of 1970s Laurel Canyon. That’s not a criticism; the Canyon was a creative hub in the seventies California music scene and it’s no coincidence that Don Henley, a member of that scene covers Jeffrey Foucault’s songs in his live sets. The arrangements and stylings all have the feel of those classic Elektra/Asylum albums of the early 70s. Jeffrey Foucault also has a voice that’s straight out of that era with hints of Randy Meisner and Jackson Browne in there. And, like those albums, the musicianship is of the highest quality while being largely understated. No flash, just perfect settings that allow the ten songs to breathe and shine. And the whole thing was recorded directly to tape over three days in Pachyderm Studios in Minnesota.

The opening song “Dishes” sets the tone for the album lyrically and musically. It’s gentle, laid-back and extols the virtues of domestic simplicity, whereas the second song, the apocalyptic, end-of-days “War on the Radio” is less typical. It has a country-rock feel with more of an emphasis on the rock, and is driven along by fiddle fills as we look into the abyss.

The rest of the album has the same DNA as “Dishes”, gentle arrangements pulling out the best in stories of domesticity in small-town America peopled with the characters that we can all relate to: the frustrated singer-songwriter in ”Cheap Suit” and the father looking back at his wedding day (with the album’s second reference to washing dishes) in “Little Warble”, with its clever lyrical device of ‘warble’ appearing at the start of the song in relation to the car’s tape player and at the end in relation to the singer’s heartbeat.

“Little Warble” has a country feel, while the rest of the album is Elektra/Asylum (you’d swear David Lindley was there) apart from the Neil Young-tinged “Blood Brothers” and “Rio” which is pure “Harvest Moon” with picked guitar, drums with brushes and pedal steel. If you’re a fan of the Eagles/Jackson Browne school of music, then you’re probably going to enjoy this album.

“Blood Brothers” is out now on Blueblade Records (BB-006).

This album should display a warning sticker. Not the PMRC nonsense; it should be a health warning, with the wording ‘Danger – Earworm Infestation’. It’s a couple of days since I last heard “Great Divides” and I’m still trying to disentangle the musical and verbal hooks from my consciousness but it’s a bit like “Whack a Mole”; everyone time you knock one on the head, another pops up. This is going to take a while and, by the time I succeed, I’ll be defeated again when I go to see them play live.

The guys in Massy Ferguson will self-deprecatingly refer to themselves as a bar band but, hey, so does my favourite band ever. To me that description is synonymous with superb musicianship, a huge repertoire and an ability to read and entertain an audience and I’ll go for that any day of the week. Throw in some great songs and you’ve got the finished article.

And how about those songs? They divide quite neatly into the abstract imagery of the riff-driven “Drop an Atom Bomb” and the straight-ahead autobiographical narrative of “Momma’s in the Backseat”; they’re all powerful lyrically and the musical settings pull out all of the songs’ nuances. “Maybe the Gods” (a duo vocal with Adra Boo) is driven along by a guitar line that evokes the much-missed Stuart Adamson, while “Saying You Were There” is more contemplative with a haunting refrain of ‘Passengers on the left’. You can hear many influences in the songs, some have a very Seattle edge with power chords and booming floor toms while there are country influences and a bit of mainstream rock in there as well; whatever else is going on, there are memorable melodies and hummable hooks.

“Great Divides” is a very rounded, complete album with songs reflecting the maturity that age and experience bring while still sounding lean and hungry and very rock ‘n’ roll. And I just have to say that Ethan Anderson sounds unbelievably like Jackson Browne at times; and I’m not complaining about that.

“Great Divides” is released in the UK on Friday June 7th on North and Left (NL001) and the band will be touring the UK throughout June.

“River of Light” is one of those albums that constantly surprises; you never know what’s coming next. It might be a nice understated guitar fill or it might be a lyric that stops you in your tracks with its brutal honesty and intensity. More about that later, but let’s just get this out of the way now; Kristina isn’t a singer’s singer. She uses her voice very effectively as one of the instruments in the mix, but it is another instrument, not a focal point. She creates varied and interesting sounds and examples are dotted throughout the album of her use of studio techniques picked up from her career as a sound engineer.

Where Kristina really excels is in creating enthralling soundscapes where every element is important. And while we’re talking about the elements, just have a look at the talented musicians she’s pulled together for this project: MusicRiot favourite Steve Mayone and Val McCallum (guitar player with Jackson Browne) for a start. The soundscapes move from the resolutely lo-fi twelve-bar country blues of a “I Like a Hard-Hearted Man” through the string band and guitar atmospherics of “Walking These Ridges” (with a bit of accordion thrown in for good measure) to the album’s closing piece, the instrumental “Godspeed”, which is cinematic with clusters of echoing piano triads and an acoustic guitar melody. It would fit perfectly on a Sigur Ros album.

Did I mention the lyrical themes? No, not yet, let’s pick out a couple of examples. “Waging Peace” (once you get past the “waging war” reference) is a post-apocalyptic vision of Albert Einstein’s Fourth World War being fought with sticks and stones. “Caught by the Heart” is a terrifying vision of domestic violence that repeated listening just won’t soften; it’s harsh and brutal, no punches are pulled and you can’t ignore the impact.

I’m just going to add that Kristina is hugely inspired by Jackson Browne; that’s a recommendation for me any time.

“River of Light” is released in the UK on Thunder Ridge Records (TRR025) on April 5th 2019.

So, where would this little Ben Kunder gem sit in the racks of your local music store? It’s almost impossible to say but I guess it’s going to land in that current catch-all, the Americana section because it features that well-known roots instrument, the synthesiser. The lasting impression of the album is of positivity; the two words of the title cropping up across various songs. It certainly ends on a positive note with a celebration of the birth of a baby in “Night Sky”. Lyrically, the album falls squarely into the introspective singer-songwriter category, but the stylings vary dramatically across the nine songs; let me explain. 

While “Fight for Time” “Better Days” and “Hard Line” fall in to fairly standard arrangements for this genre (okay “Hard Line” features a string section towards the end), “Jessi” has the feel of a eighties drive-time classic driven with some insanely catchy synth hooks thrown in for good measure. In common with the rest of the album, there are hints of Jackson Browne in the writing and the vocal intonation. “Lay Down”, however, is pure E Street Band with perhaps a few hints of Bob Seger in there as well. It’s over five minutes long and the combination of piano and organ from the beginning set the tone; maybe there are hints of The Band in there as well. As the song builds, no opportunity’s missed to gild this particular lily, with extra percussion from congas and tambourine, a falsetto vocal and a huge slide solo. The frantic drumming towards the end sums up the production; if it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing. “Come On”, which follows immediately, is a welcome chance to catch your breath before the album closes with the lovely “Night Sky”. 

“Better Human” is an immensely uplifting album, focussing on the ways we can make things better for ourselves and each other. The fact that the sentiment is helped along by interesting and innovative arrangements lifts it well above the ordinary run of singer-songwriter albums. 

“Better Human” is released on Comino Music (BKBH002) on Friday September 28th.

We love the way different artists interpret the High Fives brief. Yesterday we had post-gig diners, today we have something very different. Allan reviewed and loved the last two Ed Dupas albums, but even he was surprised by the effort Ed put into this piece. It’s an artist’s appreciation of artists and great piece of writing. This hasn’t been edited in any way, we only had to paste it in:

Ed Dupas: Top Five Conscious Musical Artists

Throughout my life, I have watched the value of the arts decline, whether in schools, synagogues, or in matters of social priority. In a world ever more driven by technological advancement and headless growth, strong, conscious artists are in dire need. The role of the artist is no triviality, despite modern devaluations. True artists live on the front lines of evolution, travelling beyond their comfort zones in hopes of gaining new perspectives which, once filtered through the lens of their unique consciousness, become gifts which they offer to society. These gifts give us hope, act as beacons, and help us make sense of our own lives in the face of turbulent times. In this way, true artists do not seek fame or fortune, they seek to make gifts of their lives, gifts of themselves. Here are five such artists that have been gifts to my life.

Dar Williams

“It’s funny how life at its best expands, explodes, and it overspills

But we try to fit it all in a grid, and we say it’s the strength of our will”

This legend of the folk genre has been a favorite of mine since the 90s, when an old college girlfriend dragged me out to one her shows. My defenses were up as I entered the venue, but Williams, standing alone on stage in her then trademark chocolate brown dress, dismantled them. She was poignant, thoughtful, talented, open, and honest. She was herself: at ease in her own skin, even when she wasn’t. Her openness and grace allowed her to make an authentic connection with the audience and, as the years have passed, I have found her music to be both a friend and an ally. For my own part, I have watched life’s circle fold in upon itself as only it can, eventually finding myself standing on stages and talking to crowds. As I do so, I remind myself of that Dar Williams show, and I do my best to give to people in the way I watched her do it so many years ago.

 

Sturgill Simpson

“Woke up today and decided to kill my ego

It never done me no good no how”

In observing the rise of Sturgill Simpson, I’ve likened the Kentucky-born artist to a battering-ram: an irresistible force hurtling headlong into an immovable music industry. At the present moment, there is no musical story more compelling to me than Sturgill’s. Not because he writes great songs or sings well, although both are true. What intrigues me about Sturgill is the way he moves through the world, his dogged adherence to honesty and authenticity in an industry defined by plastic songs and copycat artists.

Contemporary music is largely defined by competition, yet, that is not the game Sturgill appears to be playing. In contrast to the industry at large, Simpson seems to view things through an altered lens, seeing himself as his greatest barrier to success, rather than other musicians. Approached this way, one’s artistic journey isn’t defined by besting the competition – but by competing to be one’s best self. For an artist, this takes the form of constant self-assessment and self-creation. One who understands the nature of art to be uniqueness, knows that true art has no natural competition. This being the case, I respect artists who aren’t concerned with trends or sounding relevant, but with being better versions of themselves — with digging a little deeper. In this way, they create trends. In this way, they are relevant. Sturgill is as good an example of this as any.

 

Bruce Cockburn

“Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight

Got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight”

Bruce Cockburn sets an important example in the way he manages the weight of his artistry. In modernity, we place a great emphasis on physicality, to the extent that in some scientific circles, what cannot be measured is not be considered relevant. Artists do not have the luxury of such beliefs. Mystic tradition speaks of thought, word and deed, illustrating an oft overlooked mystery regarding the nature of matter, and underscoring the reality that every physical creation was once just a thought in someone’s mind. In other words, everything physical arrives at that state via non-physicality. Artists are those who inhabit in that gap, wrestling with feelings, shaping them into dreams, and leveraging those dreams towards creative action. Cockburn’s Stab At Matter takes a playfully arranged look at this process, suggesting not only its relevance, but its centrality to the human experience.

Artistic pursuits can be isolated and troubling, for the artist’s journey is by nature one of solitude. Cockburn, to his credit, has walked an authentic path while remaining largely transparent regarding the challenges of a life dedicated to creation and honest expression. His songs present as timeless, each one illustrating a particular aspect of human struggle in the modern age. A song such as If I Had A Rocket Launcher explores the limitations of a pacifist ethos in the face of oppression, while Pacing the Cage gives voice to the weightiness of existence itself. Bruce Cockburn stands his ground, tackling tough subjects, while holding firm to his place and openly owning his limitations. Artists such as Cockburn provide solid examples for the rest of us, viewing the world through unfiltered eyes, giving a voice to the voiceless, and painting pictures from a more enlightened perspective, one we may learn hold together someday.

 

Leonard Cohen

“Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen exemplified a spirit of curiosity, openness and honesty. His fourteenth and final album, You Want It Darker, was released just 19 days before his death in 2016. Cohen’s lyrics betray a mystic, wandering spirit, typical of artists. In his song, Suzanne, Cohen opines as to Jesus’ intentions, “and when he knew for certain only drowning men could see him, he said all men will be sailors then until the sea shall free them.” In a similar vein, Anthem states, “every heart to love will come, but like a refugee.” In broad, heartfelt themes, Cohen sings of bravery and solitude, requirements for any person seeking to possess an open-heart and a free mind. Cohen paints this journey as one each person must make alone: a passage into darkness that gives way to light in some circular, counter-intuitive fashion. This theme is reminiscent of Sting’s All This Time, “men go crazy in congregations, they only get better one by one.” Interesting that Cohen, with his final effort, left us with such a striking, parting message: You Want It Darker.

 

Jackson Browne

“Just do the steps that you’ve been shown, by everyone you’ve ever known

Until the dance becomes your very own“

In the 1990’s (during my plaid-coat-wearing, barista days), I found that I wasn’t quite up for the intensity of the grunge scene, despite proudly wearing the uniform. While friends listened to Pearl Jam, The Smashing Pumpkins, and Nirvana, I lost myself in the singer-songwriters of the 70’s such as: James Taylor, John Denver, and Jackson Browne, to name a few. As the decades passed, I moved away from much of that music, even coming to embrace grunge, more or less. However, Jackson Browne has remained a fixture in my music collection.

Browne’s songs manage to be thoughtful and introspective while possessing an activist sensibility in keeping with his generation. In his song Looking East, Browne critiques his homeland as being a place “where the search for the truth is conducted with a wink and a nod, and where power and position are equated with the grace of God.” As is the way of the artist, Browne seeks to understand his place in the world more clearly through his songs, “I’d have to say that my favorite thing is writing a song that really says how I feel, what I believe – and it even explains the world to myself better than I knew it.” In living and creating this way, Browne not only helps and serves himself, but his fellow humans as well — myself included.