Jackson Browne explores a Byrds-ian jangle on this full-band version of a song for Nico that’s been laying around since 1970. In this way, “The Birds of St. Marks” — which advances Browne’s forthcoming Standing in the Breach, due in October 2014 — sounds both familiar and utterly new.
Brown originally recorded the track as a demo for Criterion, then later presented it as a similarly stripped-down take on 2005’s Solo Acoustic Vol. 1. Over the years, it’s lost nothing of that sense of thunderstruck romance, having been originally sparked by the youthful singer-songwriter’s dalliance with a Andy Warhol muse. (Browne would, of course, also boast a notable presence in Nico’s solo debut, after her celebrated turn with the Velvet Underground.) What’s new is Greg Leisz’s shimmering 12-string mind-meld with the rectangular sunglasses-wearing Roger McGuinn of yesteryear. Val McCallum and Kipp Lennon even stir up some memories of the intertwining vocals that sent the Byrds soaring back then.
And yet, “The Birds of St. Marks” remains utterly Browne’s, lo these many years later. His words, perhaps more prosaic (certainly more ardently brazen) than he might dare today, are just as transportive — just as likely to take us back to another time, too. A time of innocence and lost love. A time of youth.
It’s of little surprise, then, that Jackson Browne keeps returning to this song. Only, he’s finally gotten it right this time.