Artist: Jackson Browne
Album: "Standing in the Breach"
Songs: “Birds of St. Marks,” “The Long Way Around”
Notes: We start with Jackson Browne, a tremendous — and locally-bred — talent who’s closing in on five decades years of making music. We of course know him for such timeless hits as "Somebody's Baby" and “Running on Empty,” among a slew of insta-classics from the 70s and 80s. And I’m happy to report that, even 40 years on, he’s still making highly personal, incredibly musical albums. In fact, on Standing in the Breach, his 14th studio album, he’s revisiting songs that first formed in the 60s. The lead off track “Birds of St. Marks,” for example, he wrote while playing guitar with Nico in the East Village in the late Sixties. Indeed, you can hear the Byrdsian jingle jangle guitar all over the song.
On Jackson Browne’s last album, "Time the Conqueror," which came out six years ago, he took on some heavy topics like the Iraq War. This album seems to focus more on modern sociology than politics. On the song “The Long Way Around,” for instance, he sings about “Seeing people change in the strangest ways” and even describes his younger days cavorting around Tinsel-town. About half the record is sparse and incredibly intimate, particularly the title track, but it also has a lot of contrasts — especially the apocalyptic cover art of a couple walking atop doomsday rubble. Jackson Browne, however sounds better for the wear. You can see for yourself when he headlines the "Way Over Yonder festival" in Santa Monica on Sept. 27. And his latest album doesn't come out until October.
Artist: Jessie J
Album: "Sweet Talker"
Songs: “Bang Bang,” “Loud”
Notes: Admittedly, I wasn't a big fan of Jessie J when she first broke out with the song “Price Tag” — perhaps you remember it from 2011?
Also not necessarily adding to her currency, she co-wrote Miley Cyrus' “Party in the U.S.A.” But before you write her off as that girl who sang that annoying song and wrote that other annoying one, bear in mind that Jessie J graduated in 2006 from the BRIT school in London alongside Adele and Leona Lewis and there is genuine talent there.
Now there’s an antiquated notion in the music business called Artist Development, which once upon a time meant that a record company would spend years and multiple albums nurturing and growing an artist. It doesn’t happen as often these days, mostly for reasons of costs and impatience, but in this case, the three years Jessie J spent in quasi-isolation since that first hit, has paid off in dividends.
First, let’s go to the new hit, “Bang Bang,” which is currently No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
It's a classic banger, hence the title, “Bang Bang.” Vocally, Jessie J is often put in the same sentence as Katy Perry and it’s an apt comparison. They’re both these sort of bellowing belters. But throughout the record, you can also hear nods to Britney Spears and Mariah Carey throughout the record, which clocks in at 15 tracks. Dare I say it, this is a deep dive of an album.
So, “Bang Bang” features Nicki Minaj and Ariana Grande, who certainly helped catapult it up the charts, 2 Chainz is on the second single, “Burnin’ Up,” but other guests on Sweet Talker, which is Jessie J’s third album, include De La Soul and violinist Lindsey Stirling plays on the song “Loud” which I think is among the strongest.
In it, she protests the haters determined to knock her down. Take a listen. All of this makes me think, was I one of the haters? Maybe I should just shut up.