There is a searing emotional intensity to Jackson Browne's early work, a sense of uncertainty, pain and false hope often permeates. The songs are often raw and honest and none more so than on his 1974 album Too Late For The Sky which leaves an indelible imprint every time you listen to it.
The title track lays open the uncertainty of life and the self doubt that we all face, but also reflects the difficulties Browne was facing as a songwriter as his writing matured. Browne was facing his own moments of self doubt and critical self reflection and this feeling is deeply embedded on the album.
The words had all been spoken
And somehow the feeling still wasn't right
And still we continued on thought the night
Tracing our steps from the beginning
Until they vanished in the air
Trying to understand how our lives have led us there
Beginning with a mournful piano and guitar interlude the setting is created for Browne's plaintive vocal, Too Late For The Sky was probably the most sparse of any of the albums he would go on to make. Fountain of Sorrow reflects what happens when "you see through love's illusions, there lies the danger. And your perfect lover looks like the perfect fool." We often see what we want through a lens that distorts and re-shapes a reality to conform with our desires. Farther On reflects on Browne's early years, years filled with loneliness and isolation,
In my early years I hid my tears
And passed my days alone
Adrift on an ocean of loneliness
My dreams like nets were thrown
To catch the love I'd heard of
In books and films and songs
Browne refers to his early days on the West Coast, the other budding musicians he met J.D Souther, David Lindley and Glenn Frey and Don Henley. Days spent around kitchen tables guitar in hand playing his songs and finding the encouragement he needed to continue on. David Lindley plays some haunting lap steel alongside the soulful piano of Jai Winding. The Road and The Sky kicks off side two with some four to the floor rock and roll, Browne's writing when not looking inward looked towards the undetermined destinations of the road, where anything was possible. It was a life of risk as the dark clouds gathered in the distance, a stolen chevrolet and a hot wired reality was the only thing taking you further, beyond the mundane and staid. For a Dancer offers a glimmer of hope, "to dance the dance you have been shown by every person you have known". Browne also reflects on the deeper uncertainty facing the world, something we still feel today thirty plus years on.
Keep a fire for the human race
Let your prayers go drifting into space
You never know what will be coming down
Perhaps a better world is drawing near
And just as easily it could all disappear.
The sprightly Walk On featuring some blistering pedal steel work from Lindley reflects ominously what would later occur in Browne's life with the sudden death of his wife Phyllis,
I got a pretty little girl of my own at home
Sometimes we forget we love each other
And we fight for no reason
I don't know what I'll do if she ever leaves me alone.
Before The Deluge has an aching wisdom, the pain and joy of life's journey. The spirit of youth, the innocence and pleasure thereof but it's a fleeting moment for us all because at some point the deluge of reality will hit, the responsibility, the resignation and the disappointment. But amongst it all remains that glimmer of hope, music to keep the spirit high the hidden secrets of life that often bring us contentment. Late For The Sky is one of those albums similar to some of the work from Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, honest and confronting but as a listener you are all the better for it.