Jackson Browne

Downhill From Everywhere

(Inside Recordings, ***)

Jackson Browne was one of the most artistically and commercially successful singer-songwriters of the ‘70s, with classic records such as The Pretender and Running on Empty. As he became more involved in activist movements, many of his subsequent works, such as 1986′s Lives in the Balance, foregrounded social justice themes, with mixed results.

One of the remarkable things about Downhill From Everywhere, Browne’s 15th studio album, is how much it sounds like a solid, sturdy Jackson Browne album. Browne is 72, and his voice has weathered, but it’s familiar and comforting, especially on ballads such as “A Little Soon to Say.” He’s working with some longtime collaborators, including drummer Russ Kunkel (who appeared on his 1972 debut) and guitarist Waddy Wachtel. David Lindley, his regular foil, is absent, but pedal steel guitarist Greg Leisz effectively reprises Lindley’s role.

The album is full of character-driven stories, from the young immigrant in the empathetic bilingual ballad “The Dreamer” to the aging lover getting an artificial heart in the (somewhat stiff) rocker “My Cleveland Heart,” to the bicycle-riding Haitian priest in the lovely, loping “Love is Love,” to America itself on the title track.

Personal reflections bookend the album, beginning with “Still Looking for Something” and ending with “A Song for Barcelona,” an 8½-minute tribute to the “city that gave me back my fire and restored my appetite.” That feeling of rejuvenation permeates Downhill From Everywhere.

Steve Klinge