A SOOTHING VOICE IN HARD TIMES

There are some people’s voices that when you hear them, they evoke one word: comfort. The mere sound of their voice provides some palpable level of peace, a place where life just seems OK and you can breathe. Could be a parent, a friend, whoever, but especially in these frightening times of needless war, economic hardship and vitriolic political attacks, you yearn for those kinds of voices that cause you to pause and say, “Hey, there still is some beauty and sweetness left in the world.”

One such voice rang through my head and the rafters of the Warner Theater last night, as the great Jackson Browne opened his US tour in DC last night. Backed by a stellar band of old cohorts and exceptional new talents, Browne’s soothing and oh so familiar voice kept out the boogeyman last night and brought a packed house of 1500 people to a very comforting place as the world outside shook with news of financial collapse and human suffering occurring everywhere from the Texas coast to Darfur and beyond.

From the moment Browne took the stage, every one of his songs were met with wild cheers and applause, and you could tell that everyone in the place felt the same thing: that a soothing voice they knew so well was back in their midst, and in excellent form to boot. The show opened with the FM radio pop rock staple “Boulevard”, and from then on, whether it was new songs from his first new album in six years, “Time The Conqueror”, or classic old standards like “Doctor My Eyes”, “Running on Empty” and “Fountains of Sorrow” from his legendary catalogue, his voice was what made this show so special. It just felt like that comfortable old chair, or warm room in your house, where you felt the arms of stability and comfort wrap around you, hold you tight and say “It’s OK.”

 

And it wasn’t just Browne’s voice that was magical on this night, which began with a staggeringly beautiful sunset with a purple ceiling of billowing clouds that caused me and my buddy Mike Harvey to pause as we walked across Pennsylvania Avenue towards the Warner. Of course Browne’s classic tune “Late For The Sky” immediately came to mind. But it was also the beautiful voices of his two new backing vocalists Chavonne Morris and Alathea Mills that caused us to pause in wonder during the show. Browne met them in 2001 when they were attending Washington Preparatory High School in South LA and they were with him in force last night for the first time as full fledged members of his band. The soaring sounds of these two incredibly talented young women, supplementing the soothing, familar tones of Browne’s classic voice, elevated this show tenfold. He even let the two take some lyrics for their own on a few of his classics, a move that can often backfire but given their talents certainly did not tonight. Coupled with his excellent band that’s been with him for a number of years and the crystal clear acoustics of the Warner, it was a sonically striking evening on many fronts.

 

As it always is, the world of politics was also on Browne’s mind, especially playing two blocks from the White House and fifty-plus days from the election of a new President who would be inaugurated just down the road. Powerful, pointed tunes like “Lives In The Balance”, the new song “The Drums Of War”, or the song oft-played-by-like-musicians, Little Steven Van Zandt’s “I Am A Patriot” were resounding statements made by this longtime cause-conscious musician. He even introduced “Running On Empty” by saying, “This is a local song.”

But for me, by far the most emotional moment of the show was when Browne took a seat at his small electric piano and began the sweet strains of his classic tune, “The Pretender”, my personal favorite of his many great songs. Yep, I admit it, these 47 year-old Houk eyes got pretty misty as Browne glided his way through this incredibly poignant song.  How could it not, with words washing over us like this:

I’ve been aware of the time going by
They say in the end it’s the wink of an eye
When the morning light comes streaming in
You’ll get up and do it again
Amen.

I will Jackson…I’ll get up tomorrow, and do it all again, with the soothing sound of your voice in my head. It just might help make this crazy, complicated whirlwind of a life we all lead just a little bit easier to take.

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One Response to “A SOOTHING VOICE IN HARD TIMES”

  1. Amen…JB understood before we did. Speaks to so many of us these days in any carreer, “with the road rushing under my wheels,” working too hard, we need to “stop runnin blind” …and slow down, enjoy every moment.
    A reminder to me that I always intended to “Take it Easy”
    We may lose , we may win, but we will never be here again.”

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