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  1. #21


    Released: 1992
    Producer: Bruce Springsteen, Chuck Plotkin, Jon Landau
    Label: Columbia

    So, maybe it was a marketing ploy, or at least thatís how it seemed at the time, but this set of ten songs was released on the same day as Human Touch. This is somewhat different than Human Touch whereas Springsteen seemed to be pulling all the stops, commercially speaking, on Human Touch, here he is being more stripped down. This album is said to be in a more folksy vein. The songs are more personal in nature and he is singing about periods, happier periods, in his life since the divorce, This was the better received of the two albums and it seemed in the end, his fans agreed.

    Well, Iím not a fan, not by Springsteen standards anyway; I simply just like the guy, so Iím interested in how Iíll like this. Is this the better of the 1992 albums? Well, letís see.

    Best Tracks: Lucky Town, Book of Dreams

    Weakest Tracks: Leap of Faith,

    Better Days: And it starts off positively with Springsteen moving on with his new friend (Patti I assume). This is a solid rocker. Iím still missing the E-Street Band but at least the instrumentation seems more real. Good way to start the album.

    Lucky Town: The first thought in my mind was, is Lucky Town the neighborhood bar? Whatever the intent, this is a nice folk rocker and already Iím feeling a lot more energy on this album than I did on Human Touch.

    Local Hero: This is Springsteen poking fun at himself in some ways, He is finding humor as he is regarded as a local hero and another person is trying to Ďsaveí him. The lyrics are a bit amusing. Another nice folk rock tune, not as strong as the first two tracks.

    If I Should Fall Behind: A personal love song of sorts with a great line, ďIíll wait for you, and should I fall behind, wait for me. Vulture calls this something of a wedding song. Maybe and itís certainly sounds like a personal ballad. Not bad.

    Leap Of Faith: Essentially a song about, well, faith, Springsteen borrows a few biblical references on this one. Probably the weakest track on the album so far. Itís okay, but it sounds like Springsteen by the numbers to me.

    The Big Muddy: Of course this has to be a homage to Pete Seeger who famously wrote an anti-war song about The Big Muddy. Springsteen even uses one of his lines (waist down in the big muddy). Springsteen puts this in a more domestic setting than Seeger did though. There is a bit of a bayou-type vibe to this. Maybe a little too much production though.

    Living Proof: This was written about the birth of his first child, a son. Itís very emotional to say the least. This is a solid rocker that belies the rather sensitive lyrics.

    Book of Dreams: This track is basically about second chances. And, like Better Days, this seems to be addressed to his new wife. This is quieter, probably the quietest on the album. That makes it all more personal. Nice melody, I really like this ballad.

    Souls of the Departed: Springsteen is again finding his political voice on this one as he addresses the recent events of The Gulf War and the LA gang wars. Itís personal to him as he thinks about his own son. Musically, I canít say I can get into this song which is a shame because Springsteen is obviously concerned about the world he is about to send his young son into. Great lyrics, needless to say.

    My Beautiful Reward: Well, lyrically this is simple enough. After searching for artificial means, he finds his beautiful reward in Patti. This is a gentle way to end the album but I donít find this as anything special.

    OVERALL EFFECT: So I guess the first question is, do I like this album better than Human Touch? The short answer is yes. So then the question becomes, how I compare this album to earlier efforts? Is it as good as Nebraska or Born To Run? Uh, no. Is it as good as, say, Born in the USA? Well, maybe. He certainly isnít trying to play superstar here which is what I like about Springsteen generally. I do wish he hadnít broken up the E-Streets, but the musicians here do a decent job for the most part. Most importantly, Springsteen seems to be getting his groove back. So with thatÖ


    The Word has Spoken

    And so thatís the way it was in 1992. Springsteen would only record sporadically in 1993 and 1994 and, in fact, he would go through a long period where he didnít record an album at all. He would, though, release an album in 1995, an album that would be favorably compared to Nebraska which makes me anticipate listening to the album even more. We need to review a few songs that were also released in 1995 (well, four of them actually- one was released in 1994. So letís get on with it, shall we?


    Released: 1995
    Label: Columbia:

    Iím not going to rate or review the album as it is essentially a compilation album, but there are five tracks that had not been on an album before including the very important Streets of Philadelphia which had been released the year before, and four new songs.

    So with that, here we go

    Streets of Philadelphia: This track was written specifically for the movie, Philadelphia. People may be familiar with the film as it dealt with a lawyer who was diagnosed with AIDS. Itís a powerful movie and this is a powerful song. Starting off with the lyrics, I was bruised and battered, you donít necessarily have think this is about AIDS as you can be bruised and battered psychologically as well as physically. This song would win, deservedly, several awards, including an Oscar for best original song.

    Secret Garden: This song too ended up on a movie soundtrack. Unfortunately, the movie was Jerry MacGuire and it has all the qualities you would expect in a Hollywood-hyped, Tom Cruise movie. Needless to say, this isnít about AIDS. You had me at, well, you didnít have me.

    Murder Incorporated: This was originally an outtake off Born in the USA. This is a searing song about life on a city street with the emphasis on the homicide rate in particular. And, yes, the E-Street band is back and this is one of the strongest Springsteen tracks in years. I only wish this had been on a real album because this would have been a favorite track for sure.

    Blood Brothers: And the E-Street band is here as well. And it, strangely enough, is about the E-Street band itself. Itís quite sentimental in its tone. Itís affectionate as he has to let go of the past yet without ever forgetting his old friends. Itís a sweet song to be sure. Another version was released on the Blood Brothers EP a year later. This version is kind of Dylanesque in its own way.

    This Hard Land: Another reject from Born in the USA, you have to wonder why Springsteen didnít make the album a two record set judging from this ode about friendship and Murder Incorporated. This sounds like classic E- Street band circa Born To Run. Itís vintage Springsteen folk-rock, and makes me sad this couldnít have been on a legitimate album instead of a greatest hits package.

    MUSTY THOUGHTS: I have to wonder why Springsteen couldnít have saved the last three songs in particular. He could have even added the brilliant Streets of Philadelphia if he needed material. So he would have had four songs and the E-Streets only would have had to come up with maybe six more. But, it is what it is. I wonít give these tracks an overall rating (Secret Garden certainly hurts it), but there are four five flower tracks here with maybe one meh. No, these wouldnít have fit on the Ghost of Tom Joad but maybe they could have expanded the Blood Brothers EP? Just a thought

    Okay, so thatís it for this installment. We will be doing The Ghost of Tom Joad next and it promises to be an interesting listen. So see you then
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  2. #22


    Released: 1995
    Producer: Bruce Springsteen, Chuck Plotkin
    Label: Columbia

    This was Springsteenís second foray into pure folk and, like many of his albums, had a theme to it. Tom Joad is a character from John Steinbeckís Grapes of Wrath, but the theme itself centers around the economic conditions involving the US and Mexico. He touches on immigration, on poverty in the Southwest and yet, as in Springsteen fashion, there is also a great dignity within these characters.

    The album did very well among critics, not surprisingly and I, myself, have high hopes for it. It didnít do as well commercially as other Springsteen efforts despite winning yet another Grammy, this time for best folk album. But by 1995, Iím sure Springsteen didnít really need the bucks anyway. He also preferred quality over commercialism at his best and he wasnít going to kow tow on something this personal.

    So let us review and see if The Boss can earn his third five flower special.

    Best Tracks: The Ghost of Tom Joad, Youngstown

    Weakest Tracks: Canít find one.

    The Ghost of Tom Joad: No Home No Job No Peace No Rest. Thus is the theme of the song and the album that exposes the flaws of American Capitalism. Itís good when youíre on the winning end of it, but not for so many others. This sounds like something straight out of the Great Depression. Itís a solemn track. Thereís a Woody Guthrie vibe on this one.

    Straight Time: This dark tale is about a guy who has a hard time coping with life as a free man. You see, he was released from prison in Ď86í. He has a job and a family but yet feels unfulfilled and yearns for the criminal life again.

    Highway 29: Another folk song about a man on the lam. Springsteen writes great songs of desperation. So far, this album is everything itís supposed to be cracked up to be. Like the first two tracks, there is a dark subtlety to it.

    Youngstown: If the album is supposed to chronicle the problems in the Southwest, it takes a sharp left turn and explores the struggling rust belt in Ohio. There is a western vibe to this. You know what, Iím wondering if this album may even be better than Nebraska.

    Sinaloa Cowboys: And we return to the southwest where two Mexican brothers try to find work in the US only to cook meth for a living. A tragic tale to be sure.

    The Line: Sort of a tale of two friends, one who was ex-military and now with the border patrol and the other who went into drug smuggling. Another quiet folk song and fits in well with the album, needless to say. A tragic tale. Haven't found a bad song yet on this album.

    Balboa Park: And if you donít like ending up a drug smuggler, how about going into child prostitution? Like the previous two songs, Springsteen weaves a tale of tragic desperation. Springsteen is singing of so much sadness on this album that I donít think I would recommend this to someone who prefers more happier music.

    Dry Lightning: The tragedies take a back seat on this track as this is more about a loner who has an encounter with a dancer. Itís not a negative song from what I see, but you do sense the protagonist wishes she was still around.

    The New Timer: This is about a transient who meets up with an old timer who has been riding the trains since the Great Depression. He also laments leaving his family in Pennsylvania. Very dark folk by nature.

    Across the Border: Vulture seems to suggest this could be one of those double meaning songs. Is the protagonist talking about crossing the Rio Grande as mentioned in one line, or is he talking about the big jump in the sky? I think the thing about Springsteen, is that he is so much more powerful when he is more stripped down, at least up to this point in his career. I like the Mexican sounding violins.

    Galveston Bay: Springsteen weaves a story of a Vietnamese immigrant who fought side by side with the Americans in Vietnam and comes to America only to experience the blind racism that only the KKK can deliver. At least this one doesnít end in tragedy as Billy, the racist in this tale, ends up doing the right thing by not doing the wrong thing.

    My Best Was Never Good Enough: Springsteen does spoken word here. Lyrically, he sounds a little like early Dylan, ripping off slogans from Forrest Gump for example. This is a quick song with some clever lines. It probably signals the frustration of someone who tries so hard and yet falls short, sort of the theme of the album in general.

    OVERALL EFFECT: So, about halfway through the album, I was thinking, yes, this could be a five flower special. At some points I found this album even better than Nebraska. Alas, while there are no tracks I could truly call weak. I also canít find a track with the power of the first four tracks really. I do think Springsteen has a weird love affair with the synthesizer, something Nebraska, thankfully, lacks. The good news is that it doesnít take away from the songs here like it seems to do on other albums. So, to make a long story short, no, itís not as good as Nebraska or Born To Run. It is, nonetheless though, one of Springsteenís better albums and certainly his best since Nebraska. And, yes, I enjoyed listening to this album very much and I will be listening to it again.


    The Word has Spoken

    So, after some hits and misses, Springsteen hits one out of the park, or at least comes close anyway. So why wonít he record a new album for another seven years? Maybe someone has the answer because I canít find one so far. Anyway, there are a few things I can cover during those years including the Blood Brothers EP from 1996 and a couple collections of unreleased material which I wonít be covering song by song but I will certainly listen to. So stay tuned while we cover the period between The Ghost of Tom Joad and The Rising.

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  3. #23

    in between a couple albums

    Believe it or not, there would be a seven year gap between new releases between 1995 and 2002. That isnít to say Springsteen didnít stay active for he played live regularly during this period, the highlight being the Reunion tour with his E- Street Band. He wouldnít make the mistake of breaking these guys up again.

    There wasnít any new material for seven years but there were many tracks, including demos as well as original material that had been unreleased, and Springsteen and company set out to finally let them see the light of day.

    So I wonít be reviewing song by song here, rather, Iíll make notes on the three releases, two of which are of outtakes, as I listen to them. So with that, here are my takes.

    Blood Brothers (EP): From 1996, the title track is an alternate version and maybe a little better than the Greatest Hits version, which I liked a lot. There are also two original tracks, High Hopes, which is a soulful Bo Diddley romp, and Without You, another fun sounding E-Street romp. Add a great live rendition of Murder Incorporated and a string version of Secret Garden, which is much better than the Greatest hits version (I wonder if this is the Jerry McGuire version? Smart move if it was). Anyway if Iím rating this, Iíd give it

    Tracks: This was a set of unreleased recordings, sixty-six in all. It starts off with 1972 demos for his Columbia audition. You could say the first few tracks could have been the Pre-Nebraska album. I especially liked the opening track, Mary, Queen of Arkansas (why did Vulture hate this song so much?).

    It goes on to outtakes from the early albums then into the Darkness and River outtakes. After a bunch of Born in the USA outtakes, the four disc collection covers the later albums Tunnel of Love and Human Touch with a couple live performances in between and an odd take from Born To Run or Nebraska.

    So, basically, I really like the demos and the 1973 outtakes. Zero and Blind Terry is a highlight for me. Another highlight is Iceman from the Darkness sessions. Actually, this should have been released in its own right. One day I might have to review this album song by song legitimately. Other tracks that really grabbed my attention are Living on the Edge of the World (The River), The Born in the USA demo (possibly meant for Nebraska- I actually like this better than the hit single version). Lucky Man rates as a nice bluesy Tunnel of Love outtake. Then there is the Human Touch outtake, Gave It a Name which was re-recorded in 1998 for this set. Overall this is a nice collection of songs and it is certainly a good history piece for Springsteen buffs, even if it is a little Human Touch heavy at the end.

    18 Tracks: And this is the abridged version of tracks for the not as rabid Springsteen fans who didnít want to pay for a four disc set. There were three previously unreleased tracks here, I guess in hopes of attracting the rabid Springsteen fans as well. It didnít work as it only got to No.64 on the album charts. As for the three new tracks, the Promise is easily the best of the three while The Fever, from 1973, and Trouble River are, well. Meh. So with that. Iíll say Ĺ

    So now Springsteen was back in New Jersey, feeling that his California days were something of a failure. He was happier and he was touring with his old buddies again even if he was staying out of the studio. It may be possible that Springsteen was happy with the accomplishments of his career and was happy to tour and sit on his laurels, but sometimes things happen that can inspire you, for good or bad reasons. Stay tuned for the next installment as we cover an album that was mostly inspired by one of the most tragic events in history, and it would still be fresh in our minds.
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  4. #24


    Released: 2002
    Producer: Brendan Oí Brien
    Label: Columbia

    The early 2000ís seemed to be an idyllic time for Springsteen. He and wife Patti were raising their three children in North New Jersey. He had a few songs written up and he could still be quite topical such as the angry 41 shots about a police shooting in 1999. Still, there had been no recording plans and he hadnít released an album in six years at this point in 2001.

    Then, the shock heard around the world happen and it affected nearby Rumson, New Jersey very deeply. Two hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center and a new normal gripped the US in ways heretofore unseen.

    And people, including neighbors, would see Springsteen on the street and yell out to him, ďBruce, we need ya.Ē (Two Hearts: The Story by Dave Marsh).

    And he heard the call. He was soon back in the studio with the E-Street band and they would record perhaps his most acclaimed album since Born To Run. Jon Landau hooked Springsteen up with record producer Brendan OíBrien, famous for producing alternative bands like Pearl Jam. Clearly the theme of the album would be surrounding the aftermath of 9/11 though it wouldnít be obvious until late in the album with the title track. Even My City of Ruins had actually been written before 9/11 and yet, no one doubts what he is talking about. Indeed, even as Springsteen recounts the pain and tragedy that befell so many people on that day, it is ultimately an album of hope that only a Bruce Springsteen could inspire.

    And so, with that, here is my review.

    Best Tracks: Waitiní On a Sunny Day, Countiní On a Miracle, Empty Sky, My City of Ruins

    Weakest Tracks: Letís Be Friends (Skin To Skin), The Fuse

    Lonesome Day: Or, otherwise known as the day after. It starts out as a typical Springsteen love song but as the song continues, you can sense the anger as to what had happened on such a grand scale. Revenge is mentioned and then, maybe a sense that it will be alright in the end. Itís certainly a heartfelt beginning to what figures to be a rather powerful album

    Into the Fire: This is Springsteenís tribute to the police and firefighters who risked, and in some cases, lost their lives, to the tragedy that was 9/11. It was the first song he wrote in response to 9/11. There is a country feel to this track and, like the opening track, has a lot of feeling to it.

    Waiting On a Sunny Day: Springsteen called this one of his poppier songs and he, no doubt, wanted to break a little of the sadness that the first two tracks reflected. I always wondered if he was referring to 9/11 itself as it was a perfect day, meteorologically speaking, all up and down the East Coast and certainly in New York. It sounds like vintage Springsteen. I kind of like this.

    Nothing Man: This was originally written in 1994. Originally meant as a Vietnam soldierís lament, it was reworked to reflect the survivorís guilt a rescue worker in general might have felt after seeing so many of their brethren die. Itís a medium slow-paced song and, not surprisingly, rather sad.

    Countiní On a Miracle: Lyrically this seems like a sad lament as he talks about fairytales never coming true. And yet, he doesnít want to lose faith either. Another nice Springsteen rocker and surprisingly a bit melodic by Springsteen standards. This is a five flower album so far. And Clemons is really on fire here.

    Empty Sky: This is Lonesome Day in the voice of a widower who sings about the empty sky where the towers once stood. It talks about the searing pain of loss and the need for revenge. Another strong song with a bit of a jazzy piano feel to me. Another great track.

    Worlds Apart: Now we enter a love story between a Western soldier and a Middle Eastern woman in a song that pretty much asks if we can all get along. This songs features a Middle Eastern musical backing with Qawwali singers doing background vocals. Another strong track.

    Letís Be Friends (Skin To Skin): I guess this is supposed to be Worlds Apart part two. But looking at the lyrics, I have to agree with Vulture; it does seem kind of creepy given the concept of the album.

    Further On (Up the Road): Thereís no ambiguity with this one. This is about war and what one goes through on a daily basis. Even here there is hope that one will be home again. Another great Springsteen rocker.

    The Fuse: Iím not sure about the meaning of this track. Maybe itís a veiled reference to the Fourth of July in a patriotic sense. It seems to drone a little here in my opinion. Like Letís Be Friends, not really terrible, but maybe the weakest song on the album.

    Maryís Place: This song is said to have been influenced by Sam Cookeís Meet Me at Maryís Place. This is about someone who is seeking different religions to explain why bad things happen to good people essentially. The lyrics are in a backdrop of a happy soulful arrangement which gives the song a tinge of hope.

    Youíre Missing: I think the theme of this song is obvious. Somebodyís loved one hasnít returned home from work and this time it ainít a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack. Something obvious has happened. The mood reminds me a little of Streets of Philadelphia. Of course, this is a sad song and one can imagine the anguish one must have felt not knowing if their loved one was okay.

    The Rising: This is perhaps the strongest of the songs saluting the rescue workers. This time he is imagining being a firefighter in one of the burning towers. Itís a song of tragedy and yet itís also a song of comfort for those left behind.

    Paradise: This is a song with three vignettes, the first one being that of a female suicide bomber, the second one about someone in Virginia who assumedly lost a loved one. The theme being that there really is no such thing as paradise for either. You wonder why people believe that murder will somehow get you to heaven, but I guess thatís for a political forum, not here.

    My City of Ruins: This was actually written about the decaying depression that was gripping Asbury Park in 2000, but, after 9/11, took a whole different meeting. His mantra of Come on, rise up, has become one of the most remembered lyrics in rock history. It ends the album with a sense of great hope, something that was badly needed for quite a while in 2001-2002. Springsteen would revive this song after future tragedies such as Hurricane Katrina and even the death of his friend, Clarence Clemons. This is a song that can fit in with any period of despair and give one hope. One of Springsteenís best songs ever.

    OVERALL EFFECT: Okay, so remember when I said that even the greatest of albums has, well, a When Iím 64? Okay, so letís get that out the way.

    Sometimes the best albums are made when something affects an artist so personally, he/she/they have to express their feelings in some way. Few people have been able to this as well as Bruce Springsteen and as far as 9/11 goes, nobody, and I mean nobody, did it as well as he did on this album. Paul McCartneyís Freedom, written for the America: A Tribute To Heroes concert, seems rather jingoistic in nature, and other songs associated with 9/11 (Liveís Overcome, Enyaís Only Time) have nothing to do with the tragedy, having been released earlier and were used more symbolically in various videos. Springsteenís album is relevant and to the point and has so much emotion that it has to be the most personal of all his albums. As a result, the only Springsteen album Iíd rate as better is Nebraska. And as suchÖ


    The Word has Spoken

    So, Bruce Springsteen has made what is perhaps the last of his various comebacks. There wonít be another comeback for one simple reason; there wonít be anything to come back to as he will, from here on, stay within the public conscience.

    And heís about to work on his third acoustic album and you know how much I like Springsteen when he goes acoustic. So, stay tuned for the next installment as we review the next album in the queue, Devils & Dust.
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  5. #25
    Good read, thanks for sharing. Big fan of the Boss

  6. #26


    Released: 2005
    Producer: Brendan OíBrien
    Label: Columbia

    After two tours and a well received album with the E-Street band, Springsteen decided he would go it alone again, though this time the break would be intentionally temporary. After all, bandmates like to try to do a solo album once in a while too.

    Now, many of the tracks on Devils & Dust had been written, or even recorded, years before the final release. Some in fact had been recorded around 1997-1998 during the seven year recording hiatus. It isnít fully acoustic as he does have help from E- Street members Danny Federici, Patti Scailfa, and Soozie Tyrell as well as with a few session pros. Again, most of the songs were reworked versions of songs he had written years ago, except for the title track itself, which Springsteen wrote on the backdrop of the Iraq War, a war he opposed. But more on that later.

    In the meantime, here is my take on the songs.

    Best Tracks: Devils & Dust, All the Way Home, The Hitter

    Weakest Tracks: Silver Palomino, All Iím Thinking About.

    Devils & Dust: Iím sure itís established that I am something of a pacifist. So it isnít surprising that Springsteen sings in the voice of a young soldier having to deal with war in Iraq. He supports this soldier as we should, but we also must question, why do have the need to put our young men in harmís way to begin with? Why do we have to kill people because one leader doesnít like another? If we, as a people, learned to actually not follow leaders and watch the parking meters instead (yeah, a Bob Dylan line), hoo boy.

    All the Way Home: This was a song he originally gave to Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. Southsideís Johnnyís version was more of an upbeat soul while Springsteen did it more low-key. Itís hardly a bore though and it has a nice countryish fast pace. I really like this track actually.

    Reno: This is about a fictional solicitation with a call girl apparently. A slow paced acoustic set with a nice slide guitar. Pretty impressive album so far.

    Long Time Cominí: I sense this wasnít one of Springsteenís more personal tunes. He talks about a father, but it doesnít actually sound like his. And the verse where he has a family is a typical Springsteen theme. This also sound like a more typical Springsteen song, not really that acoustic. Probably the weakest track so far but really not bad.

    Black Cowboys: Iím guessing Springsteen is writing about a young black boy trying to escape the environment of his poor neighborhood. One wonders if hopping a train to Oklahoma is a fantasy or is it real? Somber, maybe a little too much synth.

    Mariaís Bed: Kind of a countrified working class tune. Pleasant little tune, sounds like something Bob Dylan might have done in terms of arrangement. Nice mandolin.

    Silver Palomino: This one sounds like it could have come of The Ghost of Tom Joad. It certainly has a southwestern theme to it. Musically though, it sounds more like heís going through the motions, but maybe thatís just me.

    Jesus Was An Only Son: Springsteen said he wrote this imagining if Jesus was somebodyís son (as opposed to God I assume). Nothing controversial about the song itself as he recounts Jesus walking with his mother Mary, possibly after the crucifixion. Okay, so maybe it is controversial. Another Dylan vibe here with the organ.

    Leah: Basically, a love song with some help from Mark Pender of the Asbury Jukes. A nice quiet song. Not a bad melody.

    The Hitter: A story of a boxer it seems, done in a folk styled fashion, of course. Another quiet song. I think the subdued approach adds to a riveting and rather sad story. Like this track.

    All Iím Thinkiní About: Basically, a lovers lament story, I doubt if Springsteen is writing anything topical or personal here. Honestly, I think this would have worked better with the E-Street band. This is more of a rock n roll song than a folk song. Nice try though.

    Matamoros Banks: This sounds like a Tom Joad outtake as it talks about the risks of crossing the border. Another pensive folk song and a nice way to end the album.

    OVERALL EFFECT: So, basically, the album starts out like gangbusters. I really love the first three tracks really though I only mention the first two on my favorites. It tails off after that though and I find it rather uneven in quality. I do wonder if maybe he should have held some of the tracks for a rock album with the E-Street Band. In any event, I donít think the set had the same power of Nebraska or the Ghost of Tom Joan. Having said that, you can sense Springsteenís passion for traditional folk.


    The Word has Spoken

    And weíll certainly be getting a taste on just how much The Boss likes traditional folk for heíll be tackling the great Pete Seeger next. None of these songs will have been written by Springsteen (or even Seeger for that matter), but one senses this will be a rather affectionate slate of songs. Anyhow, stay tuned as we cover The Seeger Sessions in the next installment.
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  7. #27


    This project came about from an off shoot recording of Springsteenís for a Pete Seeger tribute album. Intrigued, Springsteen studied the work of Pete Seeger over the years. He became even more interested when his ten year old daughter found Seegerís music fun. So in 2006, Springsteen assembled a group of little known musicians from New York and New Jersey, courtesy of E-Street band member Soozie Tyrell, and the result is a very affectionate album saluting the songs Pete Seeger helped to make famous.

    It should be noted that Springsteen, nor Pete Seeger, wrote any of these songs. The majority of the tracks are traditional songs that Seeger had in his own repertoire. I can also say the only song Iíve heard on the album is Old Dan Tucker which got some heavy airplay on WRNR at the time. Does the album match up to that fun track? Well, letís see.

    Released: 2006
    Producer: Bruce Springsteen, Jon Landau
    Label: Columbia

    Best Tracks: Old Dan Tucker, Oh Mary Donít You Weep, Eyes on the Prize (love the jazz breaks)

    Weakest Tracks: Shenadoah, Pay Me My Money Down

    Old Dan Tucker: This is said to have been published by Dan Emmett, who also authored Dixie. Possibly a slave song, this was a popular Civil War era ditty that was sang in both northern and southern campfires

    Again, this is the one song I am familiar with and I have to say, Springsteen has a lot of fun with this one. It does have a bit of a fun countrified feel. If this was a slave song, it certainly wasnít a depressing one. This sounds like something Springsteen could have gotten away with in his more conventional recordings.

    Jesse James: Written in the late nineteenth century, itís essentially a quick bio of the infamous outlaw. First recorded in 1919, it has been covered by a variety of artists including The Kingston Trio, Jackson C Frank, Van Morrison, and Johnny Cash. Springsteen seems to like doing these songs so far like a hootenanny of sorts with backup vocals and the like. Not a bad track.

    Mrs. McGrath: This is an old Irish folk song first made famous by Burl Ives. The Clancy Brothers also recorded a version in 1966. This song was also said to have been popular during the American Civil War. I have to say, I didnít like how the song began but it kind of grows on you. It does have a nice Irish feel to it and Springsteen does it justice.

    Oh Mary Donít You Weep: This is an old slave spiritual. It also became popular during the Civil Rights movement which is where I assume Pete Seeger comes in. The Springsteen version starts off like an old twenties jazz tune and it kind of swings in the style of the Duchess and the Duke and that type of sound in general. I really like this track.

    John Henry: This is a well known folk song that I have actually heard though not by Pete Seeger or Springsteen until now. I heard Seegerís version last night and he does a great rendition to be sure. Springsteen doesnít impress me as much though. Maybe itís a little too much country for me as this is more of a blues folk song to me. He does it affectionately though.

    Erie Canal: This folk standard was written by Thomas S. Allen in 1905 after the Erie Canal traffic had been converted to engine power. Springsteen does a decent version of this standard folk song that I also remember from my school days.

    Jacobís Ladder: Another slave spiritual. Generally slaves were not allowed to talk in the field but they were allowed to sing as it seemed to help production. This was one of the folk songs that derived from the pre-civil war period. The Springsteen version is solid but doesnít seem to have the same power as Mary Donít You Weep.

    My Oklahoma Home: This was written by Sis Cunningham during the Dust Bowl era. Cunningham was a follower of socialist Eugene Debs so I think itís safe to say she could get pretty political, as could Seeger of course. As far as Springsteen goes, itís a decent country song, but Seeger does it better.

    Eyes On the Prize: This song became famous as an anthem of the Civil Rights movement. This was also the theme song of the PBS series Eyes On the Prize. This definitely works as a gospel staple and neither Seeger or Springsteen can top the version I heard on PBS. Do like the jazz breaks though.

    Shenandoah: This folk standard was popular among fur traders in the early nineteenth century. It later became popular on ships later in the century. This isnít a favorite. Sounds a little too somber for my tastes.

    Pay Me My Money Down: This old slave song was made popular by the Weavers in 1955. It also was recorded by the Kingston Trio. The first single off the album. I heard the Weaversí version on Youtube and I have to say that Springsteen canít really do their version justice, though Iím sure he tried.

    We Shall Overcome: Of course this is one of Seegerís most famous songs and yes, I have heard his version as well as Joan Baezís. This was perhaps the most popular song in the civil rights movement. Springsteen canít equal the spirit of either Seeger or Baez, but Iím not sure if anybody could. This is a tough song to cover right after those two.

    Froggie Went a Courtin: This is a sixteenth century English folk song. Most children are probably familiar with the story of Froggie courting Miss Mouse. Not a bad rendition, though I think Iím so used to the old nursery rhyme song from my childhood.

    OVERALL EFFECT: So basically, this boils down as a affectionate and touching tribute to one of the great folk artists of our time. Seeger was someone who was willing to fight, and sometimes pay for his beliefs. He suffered through the red scare and didnít get much work for the better part of a decade. When he again reached prominence as a folk purist and protest singer, he suffered through more censorship issues by way of TV even though he had his own show for a brief time on a local New York station. His Waist Deep in the Big Muddy, an anti-war song, got both he and the Smothers Brothers in trouble with the powers that be at CBS (this was at the height of the Vietnam War). Anyway, I think Springsteen took note of that when he embarked on this project and the songs are obviously done with love. Seeger is said to have been impressed with this album and, while I think Springsteen has done better, it certainly comes off as above average fare. I love the concept and the selections, for the most part, are pretty good, soÖ


    The Word has Spoken

    So we seem to be in a relatively active period for Springsteen recording wise. The next album wonít be easy to record as certain E-Street members have other commitments (notably Max Weinburg who was with Conan OíBrien), but they will manage to get it together with some sleigh of hands. Anyway, stay tuned as we cover Magic in the next installment.
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  8. #28


    After going it alone for another five years with a folk album and the Pete Segger tribute, Springsteen got his old bandmates together for another go round. 2007 was an interesting time, politically speaking, and much of the material on this album would be critical of Bush era policies. The result was what has been described as the last Springsteen album to receive a large amount of critical acclaim, not that he needed it by now. By 2007, Springsteen had long paid his dues and was certainly considered one of the grand old men of rock, a status only a few have truly attained. In a sense, he was as equal as the person he has been most compared to, Bob Dylan.

    I havenít heard much of this album outside of the searing opening track and Iím looking forward to listening to what the critics were raving about. It will be political to be sure, no doubt. And, being a frustrated folkie (even though this is obviously a rock n roll album), this should be fun to review.

    And with thatÖ

    Released: 2007
    Producer: Brendan OíBrien
    Label: Columbia

    Best Tracks: Radio Nowhere, You Own Worst Enemy, Magic

    Weakest Tracks: Devilís Arcade

    Radio Nowhere: This is a song that got heavy airplay on my local modern (Indie?) rock station. Springsteen himself called it an end of the world scenario. I guess itís sort of like that Twilight Zone episode where the astronaut is all alone in an abandoned town. Anyway, itís a nice rocker and a great way to start off the album.

    Youíll Be Cominí Down: At first this appears to be a jilted loverís lament, but it has also been suggested that this is a metaphor to the jingoism that had accompanied the Iraq War. Itís safe to say the Boss wasnít a fan of that war. A solid medium beat. This is going to be a rock album obviously at this point.

    Liviní in the Future: Well this was prophetic, or was it? Springsteen was talking about the deception that the American public had been exposed to in general. It reminds me of one of my own sayings, would you rather be safe or free? In 2007, it seemed impossible to be able to have both. Springsteen certainly gives us food for thought.

    Your Own Worst Enemy: Iím not sure where Springsteen was going with this. Was the worst enemy Bin Laden, was it Saddam Hussein, was it yourself? He clearly is singing about the insecurity we were feeling at the time. A nice string arrangement. The lyrics seem well thought out here.

    Gypsy Biker: The Gypsy Bikerís coming home from Iraq, but things arenít what they seemed before. Springsteen sings about corruption and divisions in this powerful tune. Some nice guitar work here and I love the harmonica arrangement. No weak songs on the album so far.

    Girls in Their Summer Clothes: This one is vintage Springsteen with a bit of a Beach Boys vibe. Itís a simple song about better times really. A nice piece of pop actually.

    Iíll Work For Your Love: This song has some religious overtones, probably Catholic as I think he is referring to the Mother Mary. Musically, itís pretty straightforward Springsteeen. Still no clinkers on this album.

    Magic: Springsteen sings about a magician that gets a little more sinister with each verse, but itís really a metaphor for deception in the political arena. Springsteen seemed influenced by Orwell according to A certain moodiness to this track. I think this is a favorite track in fact.

    Last To Die: Last To Die is from a quote by John Kerry after he returned from Vietnam and before he became a Senator. There is a juxtaposition between Vietnam circa 1971 (Kerryís speech to Congress) and 2007 with the increasing body count in Iraq. Needless to say, this is a powerful track and the hard driving beat, reminiscent of Radio Nowhere, helps to accentuate that.

    Long Walk Home: Another homecoming song, this time from the perspective of a soldier who no longer recognizes his town. Musically, the highlight is another great Clarence Clemons solo. Another solid song.

    Devilís Arcade: The third song that directly addresses Iraq. Springsteen again questions the reasons we were there to begin with as I think he is now lamenting the fate of a dead soldier. Strangely enough, I have to rate this as the weakest song on the album, but it isnít really weak at all. Itís obviously heartfelt, something that has always been Springsteenís strength.

    Terryís Song: This was a hidden track that Springsteen recorded as a tribute to his late personal assistant, Terry Magovern. It reminds me the sadness that is about to befall Springsteen as it does for all of us as we get older, as soon he will be losing members of the E-Street band as well. A sweet tribute basically.

    OVERALL EFFECT: So whether this is truly the last of Springsteenís great albums (so far), well, I guess that remains to be seen. I will say that this is certainly a near great album at the very least. Even though I rated Devilís Arcade as the weakest track, it really isnít weak at all. It just is compared to the other tracks. The album overall seems to have a lot of anger in it and some great music can be created in anger. This album is no exception. It compares favorably to The Rising in my opinion and comes close to the five flower albums in his collection. Not quite a five flower butÖ


    The Word has Spoken

    So Springsteen has another acclaimed album under his belt but is there room for more? Even by the release of Magic he was writing songs for his next album, which weíll be reviewing in the next installment. It promises to be a bittersweet one, but weíll get to that then. For now, though, Iíll just say see you next time
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  9. #29


    After the depressing, but critically acclaimed Magic, Springsteen began work on a more positive album, one more based on hope than of despair. He has a pattern of lamenting the problems surrounding us then turning around to inspire us to look to our better angels, sometimes even on the same album. Working on a Dream is no exception.

    But there would be some sadness surrounding the album. During the recording period, long time E-Street band member Danny Federici passed away, and that deeply affected Springsteen and the band overall. Federiciís son, Jason, would take Dannyís place for the remainder of the album, but Springsteen would always leave an empty seat at the keyboard where Federici would have played during live shows.

    The album would garner relatively mixed reviews. Rolling Stone Magazine compared the album to Born To Run, while others werenít so impressed. Will I be impressed? Well, I guess weíll have to listen to find out.

    Released: 2009
    Producer: Brendan OíBrien
    Label: Columbia

    Best Tracks: Outlaw Pete, Working on a Dream, Surprise Surprise

    Weakest Tracks: This Life, Life Itself

    Outlaw Pete: Needless to say, Springsteen is getting away from politics here for a moment and is weaving a story about an outlaw in the Old West. He would even write a book about it. This is something of an eight minute epic and it shapes up to be one of the better songs on the album.

    My Lucky Day: Basically, this is nothing more than a love song, assumedly to Patti. The melody doesnít sound very original to me. Not a terrible song but pales compared to the opening track. Clemons does a solid sax solo.

    Working on a Dream: A positive statement, this is the title track (all of his albums are named after a track if youíve noticed) as well as the first single from the album. A nice soulful piece.

    Queen of the Supermarket: I think Springsteen got the McCartney silly love songs bug here. He wrote this about a Whole Foods in New Jersey, donít ask me. The arrangement is fair at least so if the lyrics are silly, the music isnít at least.

    What Love Can Do: Love in the time of Bush meditation is how Springsteen describes this song. This has a nice folk rock vibe to it. I kind of like this.

    This Life: seems to be mentioning Brian Wilson a lot when it comes to this album. This track is no exception Yeah, I have to agree. Bruce Springsteen may love Brian Wilson. I love Brian Wilson, but Springsteen is not the Beach Boys.

    Good Eye: Not one of Springsteenís best lyrically, but it does have a nice blues vibe to it. It has a hard driving harmonica and everything.

    Tomorrow Never Knows: This has nothing to do with the Tibetan Book of the Dead obviously, this is rather more in the vein of Lennonís Grow Old With Me. A nice little country-rock tune. Kind of a nice love song really.

    Life Itself: A song about oneís own mortality essentially, something Springsteen was getting familiar with now that he was late in his fifties. I think Springsteen is trying to channel the Byrds circa Fifth Dimension. Iím not sure if that really works.

    Kingdom of Days: Essentially, another love song to his wife, Patti. Basically a pretty straightforward folk-rock ballad. Not terrible.

    Surprise Surprise: Apparently, Springsteen always wanted to write a Raspberries song. He never struck me as much of a power pop rocker, but whatever. It does have a nice sixties feel to it however. I have to admit I kind of like this one.

    The Last Carnival: This was written for Danny Federici who, by then, had passed away. The lyrics are certainly heartfelt. No one was with Springsteen longer than Federici so this is obviously a very personal tribute. Itís mostly acoustic and obviously deep in thought.

    The Wrestler: A bonus track, Springsteen wrote this for friend Mickey Rourke, to be used in his Oscar winning film, The Wrestler. It won Springsteen both a Grammy and a Golden Globe. Itís a vintage Springsteen ballad and I can see why it got the accolades it received.

    OVERALL EFFECT: So, yes, it is a bit of a come down from Magic, but it isnít without its gems. I kind of wish it could have continued the momentum after Outlaw Pete and you wonder if maybe Springsteen had considered another acoustic set. As it is, the album has something of a fair quality. Itís also sad in a way as this was the first of two albums where he would lose a member of his band to death. He also said goodbye to perhaps his most successful producer in Brendan OíBrien, who had produced the last four albums starting with The Rising. So basically, itís a decent album though maybe Springsteen was trying different sounds, especially with the Beach Boys, just a little too much. At least we know how much respect he had for the old artists, especially said Beach Boys, The Byrds, and The Raspberries.


    And thus ends the Brendan OíBrien era. A new era will begin with Ron Aniello but by now, Springsteen was comfortable as one of the grand old legends of rock. He would be in the sixties by the time of his next release and another E-Street band member would have fallen. So stay tuned, the next installments expects to be a little, well, sad.

    The Word has Spoken
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  10. #30


    Released: 2012
    Producer: Ron Aniello, Bruce Springsteen
    Label: Columbia

    Springsteen would again be back on the political bandwagon as he would sing about economic justice in particular. Much of it, though written mostly in 2011, was greatly influenced by the economic collapse in 2008. Things had improved somewhat by 2011, when this was recorded, and Iím sure Springsteen was happy to have a President he found sympathetic in Barack Obama. The result was a folk based album, not in the mode of Nebraska or Tom Joad as new producer Ron Aiello would add accompanying instruments, and some E-band members were used, but it would be certainly in the vein of an angry folk singer such as early Dylan or Phil Ochs.

    It would also be the last album that would feature legendary saxophonist Clarence Clemons, who died of a stroke in June 2011. Springsteen was devastated by the loss of his friend and now salutes him and the late Danny Federici whenever the E-Street band gets together.

    Anyway, this sounds like this could be an interesting album, so letís see how it plays out.

    Best Tracks: We Take Care of Our Own, Jack of All Trades, Rocky Ground

    Weakest Tracks: Death To My Hometown

    We Take Care of Our Own: This is essentially a Springsteen diatribe at the Bush response, or perhaps lack thereof, to Hurricane Katrina. The song itself is rather upbeat which belies the anger Springsteen is feeling on this one. Nice track.

    Easy Money: This is perhaps a thinly veiled attack at the the Wall Street brokers. Springsteen himself would allude to the Occupy Wall Street movement, which he supported, in an interview later. This has a bit of an Irish vibe. Some nice guitar work.

    Shackled and Drawn: An ode to the working class no doubt as Springsteen uses humor to point out the difficulties of trying to make ends meet. Nice beat to this one in way of one of those square dance type songs.

    Jack of All Trades: A solemn song, maybe even a little bitter, about the gap between rich and poor. A sad song for sure. I can really feel the pain in this one, even if this is more of a political song and not necessarily affecting Springsteen personally.

    Death To My Hometown: An Irish Celtic theme dominates this protest about the economic crisis of 2007-2008. This sounds a little too much like an old Irish jig. Springsteen isnít bad at it, but he still doesnít seem to be the right messenger for this one.

    This Depression: I guess you could call this a metaphor to what really was the Great Recession. Yet Springsteen takes this to such a personal level, talking about the protagonistís own depression. Some electronics, not a bad track.

    Wrecking Ball: Springsteen originally wrote this about the demolition of Giants stadium (they still didnít find Hoffaís body), but it became something as a message of hope in the backdrop of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Another Irish influenced song. This one works a bit better than Death To My Hometown.

    Youíve Got It: Springsteen gets off the soap box here and writes a simple love song. Kind of a nice bluesy feel but nothing really special.

    Rocky Ground: I guess this is the closet Springsteen ever came to writing a Christian rock song. I have noticed that in much of his music over the years, there has been a spiritual element to it. Something that may be a good thing in this case. I like the R&B/rap aspects to this.

    Land of Hope And Dreams: Popular in Springsteen concerts over the years, this is another song of hope, again coming from a spiritual standpoint. Vulture sees a link to Sister Rosetta Tharpe among others on this track. One of the last tracks to feature Clarence Clemons, whose solo was added on after his death. Nice ending with the chorus.

    We Are Alive: After lashing out at the economic disparities early on in the album, Springsteen finishes with a message of hope. That good always triumphs over evil basically. Itís a fair track with the Irish theme that dominates the album.


    Swallowed Up (In the Belly of the Whale): This is a bonus track, so it wonít affect my opinion on the album itself, but basically heís back on the rich are evil kick again. I do like the metaphor of the title though. I can see why it missed the cut for the album, but I do kind of like the quiet, dark mood of the piece.

    American Land: Lyrically, I like this song. Itís kind of a history lesson of the plight of the immigrants in the late 1800s and 1900s. It wasnít easy for a new immigrant in those days as they had to endure horrible working and living conditions and had to deal with the same bigotry some of their offspring seem to be spewing today. Anyway, to get off my own soap box. The song plays like one of Springsteenís Irish Jig songs with accent and everything. Bruce, sorry, but youíre not a member of the Pogues.

    OVERALL EFFECT: So, in one sense, this is a bit too Irish for me at times, especially being that Springsteen is from New Jersey. Still, you have to give The Boss credit for venturing outside his comfort zone. The lyrics are as pointed as usual so there are no complaints there. And, basically, itís a fairly listenable album. I do think the first side (I assume itís the first side anyway considering itís the post vinyl era), is a bit better than the second side overall. I guess my biggest complaint is that the album seems uneven to me. Not a bad album, but not exactly Born To Run either.


    The Word has Spoken

    So, in one way, an era has ended as two key members of the e-Street band are gone forever. Still though, you move on.

    And he will, with the rest of the band in tow. Theyíll create an album of outtakes and covers in the next go round and it will garner mixed reviews. Still. After hearing the opening track live already, Iím kind of looking forward to hearing what the rest of High Hopes sounds like.

    So stay tuned as we review the next to last Springsteen album (so far) in the next installment.
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