Long considered (and often stereotyped) as the conscience of California singer/songwriters, Jackson Browne has swung back and forth between the personal and political during the course of his career. He achieved a fine, if precarious, balance between the two schools of thought on his last studio recording, The Naked Ride Home, and on this, his first album of original material for his own record label, is almost equally artful.
From the very first verse of the title song, Jackson Browne is the committed albeit cautious optimist. Led by insinuating guitar lines into a virtual slideshow of images illustrating life in passage, he demonstrates how he—and by extension his audience–has come of age. Browne’s distinctive perspective as a songwriter, on a song such as “The Drums of War,” lies as much in how he asks questions as much as the questions themselves. The haunting quality of this portentous tune escalates through the astute work of his band, that virtue another thread of continuity between this CD and the best moments of his discography (from the aforementioned 2006 album extending as far back as 1974’s Late For the Sky).
A solemn drumbeat by Mauricio Lewak, doleful piano of Jeff Young and carefully fingered guitar by Mark Goldenberg introduce “The Arms of Night,” the title of which sounds melodramatic until you hear how the author’s own singing interweaves with the musicians. Browne and co. take a different course on "Where Were You," which, with it’s coda of extended turns of keyboards, rhythm section and guitar, clocks in at 9:48 and seems to pass in half that time.
The acoustic guitar and prominent acoustic piano combined with shimmering group vocals make "Going Down to Cuba" sounds like an outtake from one of Jackson Browne’s first two albums… except for wry aside about "knowing what to do in a hurricane." The author achieves an even more dramatic effect during “Live Nude Cabaret” as he shifts the perspective of the lyrics at the same time he alters the melody.
Evincing not an iota of bitterness, Jackson Browne fondly reflects upon times past in "Giving That Heaven Away." That tender and somber cut suggests Time The Conqueror might benefit from one more upbeat track, but the final number, “Far From the Arms of Hunger,” nevertheless consolidates the album’s overall impression of hopeful reflection. It also reaffirms Jackson Browne’s willingness to confront adversity as means conquering it.