Songs of an Open Heart

Born partly of a breakup, Jackson Browne's album delivers a universal pain

"It works to a song's disadvantage if it's too explicit," says Jackson Browne. "A song is like an instrument, like a guitar. Once it is built, it can be played by anyone." The music on Browne's new album, I'm Alive (Elektra), is so extraordinarily bare-hearted and openhanded, his lyrics so steady in their power, that the songs transcend the personal, working themselves into the listener's memory.

The album is one of the best and fiercest of a long career that began with the ascendancy of California rock in the '70s. Browne's fragile, insinuating voice, the wistful assurance and blue-midnight resonance of...

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