Wednesday, 10 May 2017

"The Pretender" by JACKSON BROWNE (2004 Asylum CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Out Into The Cool Of The Evening Strolls..."

Some records actually scare you - emotionally that is. Back in 1976 and well into 1977 I was 'too' into "The Pretender". I was lonely I suppose and this album hooked into that lonesome pain like no other. Even now I find certain tracks hard to listen to – a downer LP I'd rather avoid in some ways.

And as it's 40th anniversary has come and gone in 2016 with no Deluxe Edition reissue/fanfare from Asylum or WEA (it shifted over two million copies for God's sake) - we're still left with this rather boring looking 80ts type CD reissue in a standard jewel case complete with a gatefold slip of paper for an inlay. Presentation wise – you get a big fat zip. But then you play the plain-looking CD and the Remaster is absolutely astounding.

The only mastering credit on the inlay for CD is GREG LADANYI who mixed some of the album back in the day and it doesn't advise a date or what was used. Fans will know that revered audio engineer Steve Hoffman remastered the LP for his DCC Compact Classics audiophile label in 1993 (DCC Compact Classics GZS-1047 - Barcode 010963104721) and I can't help but think that that CD variant is what has been used here (without saying so). I'm open to correction on this of course - but what can't be argued away is that you get gorgeous audio on what looks like the most boring of CD reissues ever. Anyway - here are the bright baby blues...

UK released 19 July 2004 - "The Pretender" by JACKSON BROWNE on Asylum 8122-78912-2 (Barcode 081227891220) is a straightforward CD transfer of the 1976 Asylum Records 8-track LP and plays out as follows (35:25 minutes):

1. The Fuse [Side 1]
2. Your Bright Baby Blues
3. LInda Paloma
4. Here Come Those Tears Again
5. The Only Child [Side 2]
6. Daddy's Tune
7. Sleep's Dark And Silent
8. The Pretender
Tracks 1 to 8 are his fourth studio album "The Pretender" - released November 1976 in the Asylum 7E-1079 and in the UK on Asylum K 53048. Produced by JON LANDAU - it peaked at No. 5 in the USA and No. 23 in the UK.

JACKSON BROWNE - Lead Vocals on all plus Acoustic Guitar on Track 2
FRED TACKETT (of Little Feat) - Guitars on Tracks 4, 5, 6 (Left Chanel), 7 and 8
DAVID LINDLEY - Slide Guitar on Tracks 1 and 6 with Violin on Track 5
LOWELL GEORGE (of Little Feat) - Slide Guitar and Harmony Vocals on Track 2
JOHN HALL (of Orleans) - Guitar Solo on Track 4
ALBERT LEE (of Heads, Hands & Feet) - Guitar on Track 5
WADDY WATCHELL - Guitar (Right Chanel) on Track 6
ROBERT GUTIERREZ - Guitaron, Violin and Backing Vocals on Track 2
LUIS F. DAMIAN - Vijuella, Guitar and backing Vocals on Track 2
CRAIG DOERGE - Keyboards on Tracks 1, 6, 7 and 8
BILL PAYNE (of Little Feat) - Keyboards on Tracks 2, 4 and 5
ROY BITTAN (of Bruce Springsteen's E-Street Band) - Piano on Track 2
MIKE UTLEY - Organ on Track 4
ARTHUR GERST - Harp and Backing Vocals on Track 2
LELAND SKLAR - Bass on Tracks 1, 6, 7 and 8
CHUCK RAINEY - Bass on Tracks 2 and 5
BOB GLAUB - Bass on Track 4
RUSS KUNKEL - Drums on Track 1
JIM GORDON - Drums on Tracks 2 and 4
JEFF PORCARO (of Toto) - Drums on Tracks 5, 6, 7 and 8
GARY COLEMAN - Percussion on Track 5
BONNIE RAITT and ROSEMARY BUTLER - Harmony Vocals on Track 4
DON HENLEY (of Eagles) and J.D. SOUTHER - Harmony Vocals on Track 5
DAVID CROSBY and GRAHAM NASH (of The Byrds, The Hollies, CSNY) - Harmony Vocals on Track 8
DAVID CAMPBELL – Arranged Strings on Track 8

Although it doesn't directly mention the event that shaped the music - the album was recorded amidst horrible personal circumstances (his wife Phyllis had taken her own life in March 1976) and you can feel that bleakness seep out through the darkness of the lyrics. The LP's artwork displayed the range of emotions a heart feels. As he crosses a street in his clean white teeshirt - Browne looks like someone planted him there from another world - an outsider striding amidst pedestrians who don't seem to notice what's going on inside him. You flip the cover over and a naked child of three is giggling on a beach - playing in the sand and the sunset light as the tide goes out. It shows that there is also joy amidst the pain - hope - a continuance no matter what.

Musically Jackson Browne's fourth studio album was a very class affair. And as you can see from the extensive list provided above - the session players were the best. You get most of Little Feat, members of Toto, The Eagles, David Crosby and Graham Nash of CSNY, John Hall of Orleans, Albert Lee of Heads, Hands & Feet and Roy Bittan of Springsteen's E-Street Band – as well as his how own core players - David Lindley and Craig Doerge. Harmony Vocalists feature Don Henley, Bonnie Raitt, Rosemary Butler and J.D. Souther. An embarrassment of riches really.

It opens with David Lindley providing sweeping slide guitar notes for "The Fuse" as lyrics about 'years in the wilderness' slowly turn into a positive romp towards the end of the song - 'the walls come tumbling down'. And just as it’s fading - Lindley does those brilliant harmonics on his guitar - Craig Doerge providing a gorgeous counter on the piano. But for me "Your Bright Baby Blues" represents the album's first moment of true greatness. A lethal combo of musicians contribute to the "...I can't seem to get away from me..." hurt in the words - Chuck Rainey on Bass, Billy Payne of Little Feat on Organ with Roy Bittan of The E-Street Band and especially Lowell George whose guitar slide solo is the very epitome of brevity and impact combined. I've always hated the cod Mariachi rhythms of "Linda Paloma" though I know others love it. Asylum used it as the B-side to the Side 1 finisher "Here Come Those Tears Again" - an American No. 23 hit single in February 1977 on Asylum E-45379.

Side 2 offers up a stunning run of four. A song to his son of three (who'd just lost his mum) - "The Only Child" is both sad and beautiful and lyrically deep. He warns his boy that the world may make him hard and wild but to let the disappointments pass and remember to be kind. And one day he may meet that Soul that sees into his own (Henley and Souther nail those harmony vocals). "Daddy's Tune" is a 'so hard to talk to you' paternal plea that oddly starts to rock out towards its awkward end. Way better is the beautiful and intensely sad "Sleep's Dark And Silent Gate" - a short homage to missed chances - a song filled with longing for simple love - lying awake at night. Those final string notes will crush you. And it ends with the epic title track - that piano as clear as a bell. Asylum edited the album cut of 5:50 down to 4:47 minutes and with "Daddy's Tune" on the flip-side - Asylum E-45399 was rewarded with a lowly No. 58 placing in May 1977. The guy goes to work - comes home from work - goes out - gets wasted - staggers home - gets up in the morning - only to do it all over again. "...Ah the lovers as they run through the night...while the ships bearing their dreams sail out of sight..." – how many of us felt that in dead-end jobs...

Sure it’s depressing in places and too dark at times to deliberately inflict on yourself - but forty years after its release - Jackson Browne's "The Pretender" still has the power to floor me. And something that powerful and moving will always draw me back. And it sounds great too...
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