J.B. Photo by: Alan Koslawski

Take it easy

Music aficionados chime in about Jackson Browne and the power of acoustic music

By David Cotner 01/24/2013


Singer-songwriter Jackson Browne launches his 2013 acoustic tour with the simplest of all possible presentations: piano, guitar and voice. He’s performing songs from the past 40 years of his back catalog, presenting different sets at each venue. It is an almost geometric progression of greatness, dipping into the songs this way, and each venue will, of course, showcase those acoustic tracks in a unique and powerful way. But what is it about acoustic music that resonates so deeply and sincerely in people? What is it about the essence of acoustic music that speaks to people? It’s something to which Zoey’s Cafe owners Polly and Steve Hoganson immediately and viscerally respond.

“Wow! The power of acoustic music! Although we love to rock out and appreciate the full band experience, there is nothing that speaks to the heart and soul more than a singer and a guitar. Our listening room is set up first and foremost for acoustic. The audiences appreciate the music so much you can hear a pin drop.”

Russ and Julie Paris, who run the venerable acoustic roundtable in Oak Park known as Russ & Julie’s House Concerts, agree.

“Acoustic music resonates deeply with people because it’s a more direct and intimate form of art. Jackson Browne’s music in particular is some of the most intimate and personal in nature. His acoustic shows reach people more sincerely because he puts so much of himself into his lyrics and his expression. He doesn’t hold back in his performances.”

Is there a distinct difference between his electric and acoustic work? “It’s in his acoustic shows where the songs truly shine the best without the layers of extra instrumentation and aural layering that you get in a full band performance.” And what does the power of acoustic music mean to the dynamic between performer and audience? “Acoustic music in an intimate setting allows for a very strong give-and-take between the performer and the audience. There is an active flow of energy back and forth that you don’t get in an evening at a movie theater.”

Tom Anderson, founder of prized Newbury Park-based luthiers Tom Anderson Guitar Works, has this take on the power of acoustic music.

“Unless you’re in a giant venue, I think acoustic music makes the listener feel like they are better connected to the artist and can better share in the expressions being made. Because the sound is generally not so loud, there is often even more interaction between the people in the audience with each other and the artist.” So how does today’s acoustic music differ from that of, say, 30 years ago, when you started making guitars? “The songs, when much of the acoustic music was written, were often about what was going on in the changing culture, whereas much of the music today is a personal statement. We are all drawn to the music from our youth, and for me much of that was acoustic music.”

Jim Ladd, the former longtime KLOS DJ who lately can be found playing music by Jackson Browne (and others) on his Deep Tracks program on Sirius XM Radio (channel 27, weeknights 4-8 p.m. PST), says: “There is something very magical and intimate about acoustic music in general, and I think, with someone like Jackson Browne, who has the ability to hold the audience with just himself and an acoustic guitar, that’s pretty extraordinary.” Do you think it’s something that, if it’s in an arena or a small club, the size of the venue make a difference or does it just cut through all that? “Depends on the artist. I think it’s probably easier for the artist in a smaller venue, but it doesn’t have to be. I can think of many times I’ve seen an artist do an acoustic piece in a huge arena and it works. But it’s harder to get the crowd to be quiet in an arena. In a small venue, people are less likely to be cheering and screaming and noisy because it’s a more personal atmosphere.”

And there are going to be some songs that you’re so used to hearing electrically that, when you hear them acoustically, it’s almost like really great scotch and one drop of really great water: It just completely opens up the song. “I agree with you. And also, in his case, because he is such a brilliant lyricist, it gives the audience a chance to focus even more on the lyric and what he’s trying to say. That’s why I like it when Jackson does acoustic shows, because it really brings the lyrics more to the forefront, so you can really get into what he’s saying, through the music and his lyrics.”

Jackson Browne appears at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza on Monday, Jan. 28.


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