With Looking into You: A Tribute to Jackson Browne, almost two dozen singers, spanning generations and genres, illustrate the timelessness and power of the legendary songwriter’s work. A longtime passion project spearheaded by businessman and music executive Kelcy Warren, the album includes interpretations of Browne’s songs by some of his most celebrated peers (Bruce Springsteen & Patti Scialfa, Bonnie Raitt, Don Henley) and by performers influenced by his recordings (Ben Harper, Lyle Lovett, Joan Osborne). Though Browne is one of the most celebrated artists of his time—an inductee to both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, with over 18 million records sold in the US—Warren felt that his work was deserving of more immediate recognition.
Last summer, Warren brought Grammy-winning producer Tamara Saviano (who had previously worked on tribute albums honoring Stephen Foster, Kris Kristofferson, and Guy Clark) on board, to help conceive and organize the project. The first artist she contacted was Browne’s friend and colleague Don Henley, who instantly said yes, choosing to record the landmark “These Days” as his contribution, accompanied by acclaimed young band Blind Pilot.
“It is astounding to think that Jackson wrote ‘These Days’ when he was only 16 years old,” says Henley. “But then, he was always a step ahead of the rest of us. I’ve learned a lot from him, over the years, and am honored to be part of this album.” “The outpouring was overwhelming,” says Jimmy LaFave, co-producer of the album and Music Road Records partner. “It was originally going to be 15 artists, but so many people wanted to be a part of it that it grew to 22 singers and 2 discs—at some point, we had to cut it off.” Saviano points out that the artists on Looking into You were truly given free rein in terms of song selection and approach. “It was very important to Kelcy that the artists could do whatever they wanted,” she says. “There are a lot of ‘stars’ on this record, and it surprised me how seriously they took it. Henley changed his arrangement three times before going into the studio, and Keb Mo’ changed his several times, too. I was blown away by how much time, effort, and love they all put into it.”
With a catalogue as expansive and diverse as Jackson Browne’s, ranging from songs of intense personal emotion to ambitious political statements, the artists made their choices for a variety of reasons and relationships to the music. “Growing up in Mississippi, Jackson Browne’s music was a big part of the soundtrack of my youth—‘Doctor My Eyes’ was all over the radio, and it really stuck in my head,” says Paul Thorn. Shawn Colvin, who recorded “Call it a Loan,” says “I’d do this song if only for the chorus—it’s quintessential Jackson, summing up about a million emotions elegantly into four lines.” The results include some surprising takes on such classic material. Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa offer a Spanish-inflected version of “Linda Paloma”—a song Springsteen singled out when inducting Browne to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004—while Bruce Hornsby brings a bluegrass feel to “I’m Alive.” Lucinda Williams’s reading of “The Pretender” is almost painfully intimate. “That’s the mark of a great songwriter,” says LaFave. “The songs are so well-structured, you can cast them in different lights.” Lyle Lovett, meantime, ended up contributing both “Our Lady of the Well” and “Rosie” because he couldn’t decide between the two.
For the team behind Looking into You, the vision for the project never wavered. “I don’t know of anybody that admires Jackson more than me,” says Warren. “We really had fun with this, and I’m very proud of the final product—it brings joy to an industry that tends to sap it out of me!” “I think there’s a huge appreciation for Jackson’s music that’s a little under the radar,” adds LaFave. “I hope this record draws more attention to him as an American musical treasure.” Saviano, meanwhile, notes that the album has already had the desired effect on her. “I had never really taken the time to dig into Jackson’s catalogue as a songwriter, so I really rediscovered him in a new light, and it deepened me as a fan,” she says. “And that was always our driving force—drawing attention to these songs and how they stand the test of time.”