Poorly recorded with oddly muffled vocals and an overemphasized, enthusiastic audience, Jackson Browne's late-in-the-game "unplugged" recording will come as a shock to all who thought the well-tanned West Coast icon had retired or simply become irrelevant. At 57, Browne brings a morose sense of purpose to 12 songs spanning his lengthy, purposely unprolific career. Sadly, his pretty-boy locks of hair and tragic, personal missteps have sometimes obscured the remarkable quality of his writing. The emotional intensity of songs like "Fountain of Sorrow" and "The Birds of St. Marks," both rendered here as if his paycheck depended upon their performance, have only gained in stature, placing Browne squarely in a small circle of American legends, alongside Dylan, Springsteen, Seger and Petty. "The truth is that some of these songs were meant to be sung in the darkest of times," Browne says when introducing "Looking East" before quieting the crowd with a presentation so lonesome that at its conclusion, even the performer himself reacts with surprising but satisfactory wonder. The necessity of these songs is less a comeback and more a convincing presentation of evidence.
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