March 8, 2014 by Jay Minkin
Rarely do I go in depth on a record release that is a reissue, live, or tribute album. But two such albums featuring Bob Dylan and Jackson Browne are getting special treatment this week.
Originally aired as a live pay-per-view event on October 16, 1992, Columbia Records threw Bob Dylan a 30th anniversary bash at Madison Square Garden with one of the most impressive lineups in the history of rock and roll. My VHS tape has long worn out and trying to locate a copy of it on bootleg DVD was one of those Holy Grail items on my musical wish list. Well the wait is finally over as a DVD, Blu-ray, and newly remastered CD are now available to see and hear what was at that time a very unique celebration.
Where to start? Well, the performance of “My Back Pages” is one of the greatest concert moments captured on tape. A Who’s Who of icons sang a verse of the song including Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty, Neil Young, and Eric Clapton. After Dylan steps in and offers a take, he gives way to George Harrison to sing the climatic closing stanza with the lines Good and bad, I define these terms. Quite clear, no doubt, somehow. Ah, but I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now. It was a nice tip of the cap to Harrison, who had not performed live in the US for over 18 years. The house band for the show were the surviving members of Booker T. and the MG’s: Booker T. Jones on organ, Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass, and Steve Cropper on guitar. Joining them are drummers Anton Fig and Jim Keltner with longtime Saturday Night Live bandleader G. E. Smith adding guitar and serving as the musical director.
The four hour show, performed for a sold-out audience of more than 18,000 fans and live-cast around the world, brought together an unprecedented roster of artists and icons including Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, Lou Reed, The Clancy Brothers, Ritchie Havens, Johnny Winter, Stevie Wonder, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Ron Wood, Chrissie Hynde, The O’Jays, Eddie Vedder, Sinéad O’Connor, Tracy Chapman, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Rosanne Cash, Shawn Colvin, John Mellencamp, Nancy Griffith, and of course The Band. Dubbed “Bobfest” on stage by a jubilant Neil Young, The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration is a remarkable testament to the enduring legacy and ongoing musical influence of Dylan and set a mid-career retrospective for a recording artist who should be on everyone’s Mount Rushmore.
Jackson Browne hit the radio airwaves in 1972 with the single “Doctor My Eyes” from his self-titled debut album that has been referred to as Saturate Before Using and was catapulted by The Eagles with his song “Take It Easy” co-written with Glenn Frey on their debut release. Over the next eight years he cranked out five more records delivering to fans For Everyman (1973), Late for the Sky (1974), The Pretender (1976), and Hold Out (1980). Browne also spearheaded the Musicians United for Safe Energy shortly after the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979. MUSE organized a series of five No Nukes concerts held at Madison Square Garden and an outdoor rally staged at Battery Park in New York with another who’s who list of rock and roll royalty. Browne was often backed in the studio and on tour by guitarist Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar, bassist Leland Sklar, drummer Russ Kunkel, and keyboardist Craig Doerge which collectively was known as The Section. Add guitarist Waddy Wachtel and multi-instrumentalist David Lindley to the mix gave Browne a legendary line-up that could be considered one of the best backing bands ever.
Everyone has a moment they remember from a concert or listening to an album for the first time. One of my special moments occurred during the Running On Empty (1977) tour at St. Johns Arena located on the campus of The Ohio State University. Working security for ten dollars and a PEP Board t-shirt, I got to sit behind the stage while Browne ran through the sound check. Another was when Browne was passing through town on a night off during his 2003 tour which had already made a concert stop here. Mary Chapin Carpenter, Patty Griffin, Shawn Colvin, and Dar Williams were performing in Cleveland’s Palace Theatre and as the lights dimmed, Browne took a seat in the audience across the aisle from me. All the girls performing became giddy to see Jackson and coaxed him on stage, each begging him to play their guitar. He sat in for a few tunes and was an unexpected highlight of the evening.
Due out at the beginning of April, Looking Into You: A Tribute To Jackson Browne includes many beautiful renditions from Browne’s music catalog by Don Henley, Bonnie Raitt, Indigo Girls, Lyle Lovett, Lucinda Williams, Karla Bonoff, Shawn Colvin, Bruce Hornsby, Joan Osborne, J.D. Souther, and Bruce Springsteen. Some others who have been influenced including Bob Schneider, Paul Thorn, Jimmy LaFave, Griffin House, Ben Harper, Eliza Gilkyson, Venice, Kevin Welch, Keb Mo, Marc Cohn, and Sean and Sara Watkins also contribute touching takes on both hit singles and deep tracks. The album was conceived by Music Road Records co-founder Kelcy Warren and co-produced the record with Tamara Saviano, Scott Crago, and his business partner LaFave. They relied solely on the artists to create the instrumentation and arrangement of their performance rather than bringing in a singer with a studio “house” band. So many artists wished to be part of this project that the finished project became a whopping 23 track double CD release.
So, there you have it. Two releases worth laying out a few bucks for that deliver endless listening enjoyment. Both double disc packages offer some nice takes on classic songs you know and some for the die-hard fan to appreciate. For the music fan in each and every one of us, the time spent listening to all this music is … well, priceless.