Here’s the deal: longtime he-can-do-no-wrong Jackson Browne fans will find plenty to enjoy on Love Is Strange, Browne’s new live album with longtime musical cohort David Lindley. Browne still pulls off the regular-Joe-with-a-great-voice delivery that got things going back in 1972 – and he seems to be genuinely enjoying himself throughout Love Is Strange. But, why wouldn’t he? During the nights captured on this two-disc set (recorded during a 2006 tour of Spain), Browne was surrounded by some very talented friends.
David Lindley (he of the world’s greatest polyester clothing collection, amazing sideburns, and – oh, yes – so-good-it’s-almost-weird talent when it comes to things with strings) is definitely the co-star of this album, if not the true headliner. Mr. Dave is all over Love Is Strange: his Weissenborn acoustic lap steel work ranges from lovely and burbling (“I’m Alive”) to fierce and driving (the old El Rayo-X classic “Mercury Blues”) to just plain nasty (a jam-up of the title track and “Stay” – and, yes, Mr. Dave’s famed falsetto makes an appearance, too). Sometimes he wields a bouzouki (bringing new life and depth to “Call It A Loan”); other times he cradles an oud (the perfect fit for his nimble runs on “Looking East”). And as many times as you may have heard The Eagles do “Take It Easy”, you need to remember that Jackson Browne helped Glenn Frey write the thing to begin with – and when Lindley lays into the fiddle behind Browne’s vocal and guitar, they absolutely own the song, hands-down. Throughout it all, percussionist Tino di Geraldo provides the evening’s heartbeat, bringing worldly flavors both subtle and powerful – yet always tasteful – to the mix of tunes.
Other guests include vocalists Kiko Veneno (way cool) and Luz Casal (way lovely), guitarist Charlie Cepeda (sometimes a baritone guitar is just what’s needed), and Carlos Nunez (and sometimes a whistle says it all). If it’s possible to out-Lindley David Lindley on an exotic string instrument, that moment might just be during “Your Bright Baby Blues,” when guest Javier Mas steals the show with an absolutely sweet solo on the 12-string bandurria. There couldn’t have been an unbroken heart in the house that night.
The close-out track, “The Next Voice You Hear” finds all hands (including Raul Rodriguez on tres and Javier Mas on archilaud) contributing to a laid-back-and-funky jam, letting the tune go as it wants to as the various strings of the world dance and weave with each other over di Geraldo’s cool percussion. Nice.
This is Jackson Browne’s album, for sure, but it’s a measure of the man’s maturity and confidence as an artist that he’s so willing to share the spotlight. The result is a thoroughly enjoyable live album with even the most familiar tunes sounding fresh, courtesy of Browne letting his guests find their own place in the arrangements.