Jackson Browne Returns a Little Older and a Lot Wiser

`IT'S amazing what a little emotional turmoil can do for the creative process. Shortly after the well-publicized breakup between Jackson Browne and actress Daryl Hannah, the singer-songwriter has released his best album in years.

Browne's success began in the 1970s with such dark-tinged folk/rock as ``Before the Deluge'' and ``The Pretender,'' songs that revealed the personal angst underlying relationships and the carefree lifestyles of the era. Later, he dealt with the same themes in more rocking music, such as ``Running on Empty,'' which brought him to arena-level prominence.

In recent years, his output has been erratic and the hits sparse, and his music took on even more somber tones as he concentrated on such political subjects as Nicaragua. But with his new album, aptly titled ``I'm Alive,'' and with a concert tour that recently included a three-night sold-out stand in Broadway's Nederlander Theatre, he has made a superb comeback.

It is always dangerous to read too much autobiography into music, but the new album is solely concerned with the devastating effects of a failed romantic relationship. The titles of the songs indicate the personal nature of the material: ``My Problem is You,'' ``Everywhere I Go,'' ``I'll Do Anything,'' ``Two of Me, Two of You.'' But the singer is not in an accusatory mood - in the last song he sings, ``There are two of me, and two of you/Two who have betrayed love, and two who have been true.'' The overall tone of the album is of rueful regret and worldly wisdom.

But the ballad-heavy material is somehow not depressing, due in large part to the singer's vocal powers, which are stronger than ever, and the strong rhythmic sense that enlivens the music. And in the title track he makes clear his sense of survival: ``I'm rolling down California 5, with your laughter in my head/I'm gonna have to block it out somehow to survive, 'cause those dreams are dead/And I'm Alive.''

The songs also demonstrate a strong sense of humor that has often been absent from his music. In ``My Problem is You,'' he announces that he is no longer interested in the ozone layer, or in Madonna. On the other hand, a song like ``Sky Blue and Black,'' one of his most beautiful ever, presents him at his most emotionally vulnerable.

In concert, the music resonated even more strongly. After opening with the popular ``Doctor, My Eyes,'' he played all of the new album, starting with the title track. Augmented by a strong six-piece band, the singer, in superb voice, delivered startlingly clear renditions of his new songs.

Eschewing such popular but frothier offerings like ``Somebody's Baby,'' ``Lawyers in Love,'' or ``Stay,'' he did dip into his catalog to sing songs, such as ``Late for the Sky,'' which conveyed a thematic continuity with the new material. Happy, chatty, joking with the audience, Jackson Browne was a vibrant example of the healing powers of music.

* Jackson Browne performs in San Francisco at the Warfield tonight and tomorrow night, and in Los Angeles at the Universal Amphitheater Nov. 27 and 28.

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