Six years after Time the Conqueror, a Bush-era LP that found him addressing subjects like Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq War, Jackson Browne is preparing to release Standing in the Breach, a new studio album due October 7th. For the lead single, the singer-songwriter returned to “The Birds of St. Marks,” a tune he wrote when he was playing guitar with Nico in the late Sixties, and recruited his new ensemble of musicians to give the track a fuller arrangement.
“I was freeloading off friends on the Lower East Side,” Browne says. “I came to New York with no money at all, and I got this job playing for Nico, which sort of saved me because I had nothing going. I was suggested for the job by Tim Buckley. I went to go see Tim, whom I knew, and Nico was there with Sterling Morrison backing her up. And other nights it would be Lou Reed I guess. She actually offered the job to Tim Buckley, but he started laughing and said, ‘I don’t think she realizes that I have gigs!'”
“The Birds of St. Marks,” in turn, was inspired partly by the singer’s admiration for Byrds guitarist Jim McGuinn: “This is a song I always heard as a Byrds song, and that was even part of the writing of the song because Nico loved the Byrds. She even said on a couple of occasions, ‘Oh, you can play something like Jim McGuinn?'” Her tastes were really eclectic. She also knew Ornette Coleman and he was really responsible for the way she began to play the pump organ. He told her, ‘Yeah, you should play the melody with your left hand.’ And she thought that McGuinn was like an avant-garde guitarist.”
The finished version of the song features Greg Leisz playing a McGuinn-esque 12-string guitar and can be streamed below. Browne, meanwhile, is in the middle of a tour that includes stops at venues like New York’s Beacon Theatre, Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium and London’s Royal Albert Hall.