Record #347: Jackson Browne – Running on Empty (1977)

As I mentioned last time, I’m pretty new to Jackson Browne’s (reputedly legendary) catalogue. I’ve come to know and appreciate some of his singles on the classic rock station, but yesterday’s article was the first time I listened to a Jackson Browne album front to back (and I rather enjoyed it). Running on Empty, however, is a different sort of album…
It’s a live album, but none of the songs appeared on earlier studio albums. Besides that, many of the tracks were recorded not on stage, but in hotel rooms, on tour busses, and in green rooms before shows. This gives the record an intimate quality that escapes not only most live albums, but most albums in general, even though around half of the songs are covers. 

While I spoke previously to Browne’s tendency towards subtler arrangements, many of the non-stage recordings here (like The Road, Rosie, and Cocaine) are downright sparse–a pair of acoustic guitar, a violin, a few extra voices singing harmony. A couple of the hotel room tracks include a drum kit and electric guitar, which raises the question: what kind of Holiday Inns were they staying in? The most impressive of these non-stage tracks is the bouncing Nothing But Time, recorded on a bus driving down the highway You can literally hear the engine shifting as Jackson sings about sleepless nights and state lines. Ambient noise is most recording engineers’ worst nightmare. Here, it adds a level of authenticity impossible in a studio. 

All of these ignores the full band, stage performance tracks, though. The crowd is amped, the lead guitars scream, but the band resists the urge to take off after them. The restraint shown on their studio recordings remains intact, and Jackson sings just as earnestly in front of a thousand people as he does in a hotel room. 
All of these elements create a live album that is less a portrait of the musicians’ live performance and more a documentary of life on the road–a life that Jackson assures us isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s