Singer Jackson Browne still manning the barricades

by Reuters
Tuesday, 18 November 2014 15:57 GMT

By Angus MacSwan

LONDON, Nov 18 (Reuters) - Singer-songwriter Jackson Browne has always worn his heart on his sleeve, whether singing about romance or railing against U.S. foreign policy and global injustice.

His new album "Standing in the Breach" shows he has not given up the struggle. Gun control, bankers' greed and environmental destruction are all targets for his ire.

"You don't know why/but you still try/for the world you wish to see," he sings on the title track.

But there's also plenty of room for other matters on the album, which Rolling Stone magazine called "superb, inspiring".

"It's pretty hard to look at what's going on in the world and not make some reference to what's happening politically because it affects us all so much," Browne told Reuters.

"Songs are a good place to express your beliefs, your hopes, or for that matter your doubts."

He was speaking at the start of a European tour which includes a sell-out date at London's Royal Albert Hall.

But for a few wrinkles, Browne, now aged 65, has hardly changed in looks from the prodigy who emerged on the early 1970s California scene which included Joni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills and Nash.

He was closely associated with the Eagles in their early days, co-writing with Glenn Frey their hit "Take it Easy". That song is referenced in one track - "Leaving Winslow," about a hobo riding the rails, based on characters Browne met as a kid.

Early albums such as "For Everyman" and "Late for the Sky" were highly personal. He took an overtly political turn with 1986's "Lives in The Balance" at the height of the United States' controversial involvement in Central America's wars. It divided fans, some of whom only wanted more songs of lost love.

Browne said he had always been political but his earlier songs focused more on his own life.

"In my mid-teens, I was active in civil rights. Where I went to school (in Orange County, California) was pretty conservative. The revered people in my household were black jazz musicians and gypsy guitarists - Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Django Reinhardt. So when I went into these classrooms I was like from another planet. I got kicked out of one class."

His father had him canvassing votes for Lyndon Johnson.

"Of course, Johnson won and then bombed Vietnam. So there was a political education in that," he said.

"Standing in the Breach" also features a song "Walls and Doors" by his friend Carlos Varela, the Cuban singer. The two met in Havana some 10 years ago and spent an evening playing each other's songs in his room at the Hotel Nacional.

"The room kind of filled up with people translating them. Carlos' songs explain what life is like in Cuba. The explanation would go on and other people would join in, like having a group discussion."

Varela later appeared on stage with Browne in Europe but it was years before he could make it the United States due to Washington's embargo on the Communist-ruled island - a policy Browne strongly opposes.

At this stage of the game, Browne said he hoped to offer some hope and enthusiasm to a new generation. As for speaking out: "I still feel the need to, now more than ever." (Editing by Michael Roddy/Jeremy Gaunt)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.