JACKSON BROWNE releases Standing In The Breach, his 14th studio album, next week. Recorded in Los Angeles, it foregrounds themes of love, hope and defiance. And lucky old MOJO readers – you’re getting to hear the whole thing before anyone else...
“There’s plenty of variety,” Browne tells MOJO, “and great interplay. Even a couple of songs that sound like singles – at least they don’t have to be two minutes 30 any more.”
Inspired by the Byrdsian jangle of noted lap steel man Greg Leisz on 12-string electric guitar, Browne revived a song from his youth. Stirring album opener The Birds Of St Marks dates from the time of his mid-’60s dalliance with Nico.
“I had a half-baked plot to get The Byrds to play on it.”
“I always heard the track this way”, says Browne. “Like it was a Byrds song. In fact I had a half-baked plot to get The Byrds to play on it. You know, if they wouldn’t be in the studio together I could get them in one by one and reform them by stealth.
“I talked to Crosby about it. Then it occurred to me that the most authentic thing would be to get him to the studio, then fire him.”
Browne’s Byrds wheeze never came off, but with Val McCallum and Kipp Lennon from LA folk-rockers Venice doubling on the vocal harmonies, the track retains a spectral essence of Cros. And the “wooden lady” of the last verse? Was that Nico?
“Oh no!” laughs Browne. “That was the 40ft wooden showgirl they used to have above the Chateau Marmont on Sunset Strip. It was an advert for the Sahara Hotel in Vegas.”
More typical of the album’s contemporary concerns is The Long Way Around – a slow sad shake of the head at modern woes (“It’s so hard to keep track of what’s gone wrong / The covenant unravels and the news just rolls along”). Then there’s the title track, resonating powerfully with the album’s cover artwork: a Moises Saman photograph of the destruction wrought by the Haiti earthquake of 2010.
“I started writing the song in the days after the quake,” says Browne, who supports Artists For Peace & Justice, filmmaker Paul Haggis’s pro-Haiti charity. “That song is about hope and resilience.”
Standing In The Breach is out on October 6, 2014.