Record Review - 3 June 17 2004

Singer/songwriters who peaked in Jackson Browne’s era of the mid- to late-’70s have not been well served by catalog overviews. None of Browne’s contemporaries — including James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison and even Neil Young — have received a lavish, career-spanning box set (the record industry’s version of a gold watch), even though their music has been incalculably influential.

Browne, however, has just been the recipient of this sprawling 32-track double CD, released in conjunction with his recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Compiled by the artist, Very Best Of hits the obvious high water marks from Browne’s 12 discs recorded over a 30-year period beginning in 1972, emphasizing reflective, sensitive epics over his more didactic political excursions and oft-clunky rockers. Shrewdly excluding the rarities that bog down multiple volume sets, the Very Best Of generally reflects its unimaginative title.

To his credit, Browne’s output has been remarkably consistent over the decades; 2002’s “The Naked Ride Home” could have been taken off the 1973 LP For Everyman. That reliability is also a bit of a double-edged sword. Unlike Mitchell, Young or Morrison, Browne hasn’t altered his musical direction or vocal approach significantly in the past three decades. That results in a numbing sameness over the two-hour playing time.

Regardless of his undeniably sharp lyrical observations, excellent band and tender yet steely vocals, it sounds like Browne has been, even during his most fertile periods, running on empty ... or at least fumes.

Jackson Browne plays Chastain Park Amphitheatre Sun., June 20. 8 p.m. $33.50-$43.50.