Album reviews: Jackson Browne – Downhill from Everywhere and Leon Bridges – Gold-Diggers Sound

Jackson Browne’s new record shows a master songwriter with the wind in his sails, while Leon Bridges stays the R&B course after a maelstrom of genre-blurring albums

<p>Jackson Browne is releasing his new album, ‘Downhill from Everywhere'</p>

Jackson Browne is releasing his new album, ‘Downhill from Everywhere'

Jackson Browne – Downhill from Everywhere

★★★★☆

Jackson Browne’s first new album in seven years takes its name from a remark by the oceanographer Captain Charles Moore, that “the ocean is downhill from everywhere”. Given that Browne has been writing songs about the dangers of a collapsing ecosystem since the early Seventies, it’s no surprise to hear him now rallying the environmentalist cause as climate sirens wail. The title track is an impassioned plea to stop dumping plastic into our oceans, and includes Browne’s first use of the word “anthropocene” (impressive even for this unusually verbose songwriter).

Almost half a century has passed since Browne’s sublime self-titled debut, but he still sounds fresh, still endlessly curious about the world around him. As he puts it on the restless opening track, he’s “Still Looking for Something”. That search takes him all over the world, from Haiti – the gorgeous “Love is Love” is taken from last year’s benefit album Let the Rhythm Lead – to Barcelona, a city he credits on the closing track for having “restored my fire and gave me back my appetite”. Downhill from Everywhere provides plenty of evidence of that relit spark, delivering the sheer joy of hearing a master songwriter with the wind in his sails. KEGP

Leon Bridges – Gold-Diggers Sound

★★★★☆

Some albums sound like a place feels. Since his 2015 debut Coming Home, Bridges has demonstrated a knack for achieving precisely this. Historically, the place that his voice – reminiscent of the king of soul, Sam Cooke’s – elicits is the Sixties south, where Bridges was born and raised. With his third album though, the place is more specific. Gold-Diggers Sound takes after its namesake: the studio/hotel/bar off of Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles where Bridges decamped for 24 months to record this latest release. There, the four-time Grammy nominee would polish off his last tequila at 10 in the morning before waking up at 10pm to work because as he said, “it’s hard to unlock a sexy vibe at 11am”. His nocturnal creative process is written all over the album, which is best listened to with an ice-cold beverage in hand and the lights dimmed low.

The album begins with a mood-setter. A satisfying keyboard lick unfolds “Born Again”, a velvety jazz number layering Bridges’ unmistakable croon over complementary horn arrangements. But while there are discernable notes of jazz and some guitar prominent tracks, Gold-Diggers is an obvious R&B record. In a maelstrom of genre-swerving albums, Bridges mostly stays the course. “Don’t Worry” is a highlight. The near seven-minute collaboration with vocalist Ink sees the two singers exchange verses about a dying romance that finds groove in its mournful subject matter, never dipping into gloom.

Lyrically, Bridges remains recognisable. The singer waxes equally seductively about love had (“I find peace in the valley of your truth”) and love lost (“I can feel the distance go for miles / but cold is all you are”). One track though, stands out. On “Sweeter” – which was originally released in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd and features LA hip-hop and jazz artist Terrace Martin – Bridges turns his typically introspective gaze outwards at police brutality and racist oppression. “Hoping for a life sweeter / Instead I’m just a story repeating,” he sings. The track is a deep, thick and slow listen, like moving through treacle.

In the past, Bridges has come up against resistance when trying to change up the Sixties retro soul sound he first became famous for. His 2018 second album Good Thing leaned into pop, a move that some chided him for as being inauthentic. But Gold-Diggers proves the doubters never got to him. The record is a confident immersion into a genre he’s only toyed with before. And just as Good Thing never fully sacrificed Bridges’ style, neither does Gold-Digger forget his roots. AN

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