2008 was a busy year for Jackson Browne: first there was Solo Acoustic, Vol. 2 then Time the Conqueror, his first new studio offering in six years, and just in time for Christmas, this slipcase box containing both live acoustic records. The opening 28 seconds of Solo Acoustic, Vol. 1 are massive crowd applause and it's totally unnecessary. The music here speaks for itself. Whether or not one appreciates Browne's recorded catalog is immaterial; his gift as a songwriter is enigmatic, unassailable, and singular. There are 12 songs here from throughout his career, ranging from "These Days" and "For Everyman" to "Lives in the Balance" and "Looking East," and all points in between. There are numerous spoken and instrumental intros to the material; Browne is a comfortable communicator when it comes to sitting alone in front of an audience, though sometimes his humor is cynical and borders on bitter. The versions of "For a Dancer" and "The Pretender" are deeply moving, as are "These Days" and "Too Many Angels." That said, it would be easy to live without all these intros and those on the second volume, when the songs so easily speak for themselves.
The second volume is a mirror image of the first since it features -- mostly -- songs from his later years. But it doesn't matter. Browne's later songs communicate so directly that, presented in this manner we can find ourselves wandering around in reverie, even if we've never heard them before. While there are a few "classic" tracks -- "Redneck Friend," "Something Fine," and "Somebody's Baby" (from the Fast Times at Ridgemont High soundtrack) -- most of this material comes from records after Hold Out. There are three tunes from the tragically ignored Naked Ride Home, which stack up seamlessly with his '70s material. "The Night Inside Me," "Casino Nation," and "My Stunning Mystery Companion," grace the beginning, middle, and end of this offering. Browne does travel back here; in fact, he goes all the way back to "Something Fine," off his debut, his performances of cuts from albums such as Looking East, I'm Alive, World in Motion, and Lives in the Balance offer listeners an opportunity to hear him at his most vulnerable yet confident. Like volume one, the spoken introductions to several numbers are overly long and don't necessarily translate well to CD. Presented like this, without any bonus material, fans who purchased either volume previously will have a decision to make, but for those who haven't, this is an ideal way to complement a greatest-hits record, or an ideal place to begin with Browne's work.