CD short takes: Legends edition

Solo Acoustic, Vol. 1, Jackson Browne — If you’ve missed Jackson Browne’s recent series of solo acoustic tours over the last couple, including a stop here in Sioux Falls in November 2003, this CD brings a slice of it into your living room or vehicle. Released on Browne’s own independent label, Inside Recordings, the disc contains 12 cuts recorded during those shows. This is simply the songwriter alone with his tools — a piano and guitar. The songs come from throughout Browne’s lengthy career (e.g., “These Days,” “Everyman,” “The Pretender,” “Lives in the Balance,” “Looking East”). Presented in this context, though, Browne often instills them with new and different nuance and feeling. It even includes the first official release of “The Birds of St. Marks” Given how much I like Jackson Browne, this ranks as one of my favorite releases this year.

Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, Paul McCartney — The biggest thing Paul McCartney has going against him is his past. After all, it’s hard when everything you do is compared to some old band called the Beatles. As a result, for example, when you hear the opening guitar work on and then see the song title of “Jenny Wren,” you can’t help but be reminded of “Blackbird” from the Beatles’ so-called White Album. McCartney has gotten plenty of press about playing every instrument on the CD and how it was produced by Radiohead’s producer. There’s no doubt McCartney displays his excellent musical and songwriting abilities and that the CD is very well produced. Still, while it’s certainly not full of “silly love songs,” when all is said and done I found nothing to get too excited about.

A Time to Love, Stevie Wonder — I still remember declaring a personal college holiday when Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life was released in 1976. Here we are nearly 30 years later, and Stevie has come nowhere near that mark again. This release, his first in a decade, again can’t reach that high bar but is my favorite of his in the past 30 years. It tends to be heavy on R&B-tinged love songs but Stevie still likes to throw a bit of political consciousness into his work. The CD includes appearances by India.Arie (on the title track), Prince, Bonnie Raitt and Paul McCartney and he’s joined in two duets by his daughter, Aisha Morris (including the beautiful “How Will I Know”). Some of the work is reminiscent of other items in his career and Stevie still likes to play most of the instruments. There’s some material here that doesn’t quite click but, like McCartney, Wonder faces the burden of having everything compared to stellar past production.

Not enough money for
The young, the old and the poor
But for war there is always more
When will there be a time to love

Title Track, Stevie Wonder, A Time to Love

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