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  1. #31

    HIGH HOPES




    Released: 2014
    Producer: Ron Aniello, Brendan OíBrien, Bruce Springsteen
    Label: Columbia

    This is an interesting album for a couple of reasons. Firstly, this is the first album Springsteen fully recorded after the deaths of Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons though some old material featuring the two are on this album. Secondly, this is an album of all outtakes, covers, and re-recorded versions of old material. In other words, none of the songs are original recordings. This was also where Ron Aniello comes in as the new producer as Springsteen again decided to change speeds after a fruitful decade with Brendan OíBrien. The result would be a mixed bag that, while commercially successful, wasnít necessarily a big hit with the critics, who as a whole, rated this as one of Springsteenís poorer efforts.

    So, I donít know what to expect from this album as Iíve only really have heard a live version of 41 shots. If the album is anything like that, then the critics must have been drinking something. If itís the exception to the rule, well, letís see.

    Best Tracks: American Skin (41 Shots), Heavenís Wall

    Weakest Tracks: Down in the Hole, Hunter of Invisible Game





    High Hopes: Originally released on the 1996 Blood Brothers EP, this was re-recorded for the album. Originally written and recorded by Tim Scott McConnell, this has something of a Bo Diddley vibe with some seventies/eighties type of jazz pop. Itís not a bad way to open the album.

    Harryís Place: The first of two outtakes from The Rising sessions. Iím not really sure what Springsteen was writing here thought it may have something to do with the despondency of drug use, which would be odd since Springsteen was never known to have had a drug problem. I can see why it was kept off the album. For one thing, it isnít really in the theme of the 9/11 vibe on that particular album, but there are some good instrumental moments here such as in another great Clemons sax solo.



    American Skin (41 Shots): This is actually an older song that Springsteen wrote after the police shooting death of Amadou Diallo in 1999. He sings of what a minority has to go through when dealing with police and it reminds me of some of the documentaries I have watched about racial strife in particular. The song, which Sprinsgteen has played live since 2000 and, more recently, had dedicated it to Trayvon Martin, received quite a bit of criticism from the police. The live version is especially powerful. The studio is as well as the background vocals are eerily a little echoey. This is a favorite to be sure.

    Just Like the Fire Would: This is a Saints cover from 1986. I havenít heard the Saintsí version, only really having heard their classic, Iím Stranded, so I can only go by Springsteenís version. This sounds like a pretty straightforward eighties track that sounds a little more like John Mellencamp than Bruce Springsteen. Nice trumpet solo.

    Down in the Hole: The second of two outtakes from the Rising sessions. This was written right after 9/11 and it is a lament for a loved one that was buried under the rubble of the towers essentially. The lyrics are strong but the synthesizers turn me off a little, even with a nice organ solo.

    Heavenís Wall: Springsteen seems to be trying to do some gospel here. Again this sounds a little more like eighties pop. It reminds me a little of Don Henley, strangely enough, though I have to admit getting into it as the song goes on. I ended up really liking it.

    Frankie Fell In Love: This was something apparently influenced by when Springsteen and Van Zandt were roommates back in the day. Itís essentially a fun love song. Itís fairly vintage Springsteen, nothing special really.

    This Is Your Sword: Lyrically, this is kind of sounds like Onward Marching Soldiers or something. Musically, it sounds like a nice piece of folk-rock pop. There is a Byrds vibe on this one that I kind of like.

    Hunter of Invisible Game: This was written for a short film if Iíve read it right. Not a terrible song really, but I canít say the slow relaxing pace excites me very much.

    The Ghost of Tom Joad: This, of course, is a reworking of the classic track from 1995. This is the electrified version. It isnít bad as it was well written to begin with, but I think I like the original acoustic version better.

    The Wall: This was written for a friend of Springsteenís who was reported missing in Vietnam. Of course I think itís safe to assume The Wall is referring to the Vietnam War Memorial. Lyrically, this is probably the most powerful song of the album as he takes shots at Robert McNamara and those that swore we could win the war while thousands died. This is very somber and no doubt heartfelt.

    Dream Baby Dream: This was originally recorded by Suicide back in 1977. Suicide was one of the pioneers of the New York punk scene. Itís certainly a respectful cover but I think I like the darker Suicide a bit better.


    AMERICAN BEAUTY EP


    There were too many tracks to fit on High Hopes so a four song EP was released. I donít have much more information that that but we do have the songs so here goesÖ


    American Beauty: Springsteen likes to call this track his Exile on E Street as this seems more like a Keith Richards tune than it does his own. Yes, I can hear the comparisons to Richardsí solo work. It comes off a nice piece of folk-rock more than anything else though. I like this track.

    Mary Mary: Evidentally, this whole EP is influenced by the Monkees because he rips off the main refrain from the Monkeesí Mary Mary or at least paraphrases it (Mary, Mary, where have you gone to). Of course this is a totally different song. Itís not bad but not something Iíd go out of my way to listen to again.

    Hurry Sundown: Vulture https://www.vulture.com/2016/06/ever...ng-ranked.html says this is Springsteenís take on Pleasant Valley Sunday so I guess he must have been a Monkees fan. Thatís okay, because I was too in a way. This actually sounds a little like heavy REM though I do hear a hint of Nesmith on this. Pretty nice track. Would be a favorite had it been on the album.

    Hey Blue Eyes: This is basically one of Springsteenís dark political songs as Genius.com https://genius.com/Bruce-springsteen...ue-eyes-lyrics puts it. Obviously influenced by the occupation of Iraq, you can click on the link to get their take on Abu Ghraib and its influence as well. Probably not Springsteenís most melodic effort, but still kind of Dylanesque in its own way.




    OVERALL EFFECT: Okay, so Iím not including the American Beauty EP here as this is more about High Hopes. Having said that, it isnít a bad effort overall. I like two tracks and two tracks are more meh, kind of like the main album really.

    As far as High Hopes goes, no it certainly isnít what I would call a Springsteen classic but I canít say it totally stinks either. Overall, itís a decent collections of songs that is quite listenable for the most part. Do I love this album, well, not really. But I do basically like it so with thatÖ


    MUSTYíS RATING:

    The Word has Spoken



    So weíre down to just one more album, so far anyway. After a five year hiatus (Springsteen is no spring chicken anymore, you know), heíll come back with a more country-folk type effort saluting the old Western movie industry basically. It should be a fun listen so stay tuned for the last entry in our Springsteen saga.
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  2. #32

    WESTERN STARS (AND THE END OF OUR SAGA)






    Released: 2019
    Producer: Ron Aniello
    Label: Columbia

    After a five year break, Bruce Springsteen, now seventy years young, set out to record an album that he says was influenced by Southern California pop music, naming Glen Campbell and Burt Bacharach as influences. I have to wonder if there are some Beach Boys influences as well in this context. Springsteen also directed a documentary of the same name. The theme is that of a fading B western movie star reflecting on his life essentially. Sounds pretty interesting, doesnít it?

    The album, as is the norm with Springsteen, garnered considerable commercial success and he again would get some positive reviews. Iíve only heard the title track so far and it certainly does encourage me. Anyway, letís give it a spin, shall we?


    Best Tracks: Hitch Hikiní, Western Stars

    Weakest Tracks: There Goes My Miracle



    Hitch Hikiní: The album starts out with someone who, well, is hitch hiking. Itís also about the people he meets along the way. Itís a pleasant opening with a nice orchestral arrangement. This sounds a little different than the usual Springsteen.

    The Wayfarer: Lyrically, this isnít unlike Hitch Hikin. One thing for sure, this wonít be an album of political diatribes. Itís similar to Hitch Hikin in terms of arrangement as well, maybe not quite as strong in my opinion, but a solid track nonetheless.

    Tucson Train: In some ways, this may be the most Springteeneque song on the album. Even so, this follows the western theme of this album with the same string arrangement. I imagine that can get old after a while, but so far this is a rather pleasant album.



    Western Stars: The title track to the album. Here he is saluting the old western movie stars and it is quite affectionate in that regard. He mentions his love for the West in an interview and, having visited there myself, Iíd have a hard time not agreeing with him. I really like this tune.

    Sleepy Joeís Cafť: Springsteen continues on with the theme of the album as weaves a pleasant story about a cafť somewhere out in the boonies I guess. There is a slight zydeco feel to this. This is a pretty enjoyable album so far.

    Drive Fast (The Stuntman): Basically this is the lament of a stuntman where life isnít very easy. It moves at a medium pace and follows the story as Springsteen is weaving it.

    Chasiní Wild Horses: And now we go to Drive Fast, the sequel. This character seems to be trying to block his personal problems, thus the title. Itís a slow moody piece with a nice countrified guitar in the background. No weak tracks so far on this album.

    Sundown: No, this has nothing to do with Gordon Lightfoot. Basically itís just another track that is following the theme of the album. Not a song Iíd be looking for specifically but as something to listen to, itís certain pleasant.

    Somewhere North of Nashville: Clocking in at just under two minutes, this one weaves a tale of a failed country singer. I like Vultureís comparison to something Faust might write. Itís a sad song to be sure. I hear applause between each track making me wonder if these tracks are either live or itís a studio effect (the clapping is live either way of course).

    Stones: No doubt this is the darkest track on the album, lyrically speaking, and itís hard to fathom if itís political or personal, especially since Springsteen has been especially neither on this album. I hear a slight REM influence on here (Automatic For the People maybe?), but that could just be because Iím such a big REM fan.

    There Goes My Miracle: Not the most lyrically inspiring song, I hear more of the REM vibe here, but letís face it, Bruce Springsteen is no Michael Stipe. Probably the weakest song on the album but not a terrible song when it comes right down to it.


    Hello Sunshine: I keep thinking of Super Furry Animals when I see this song title. It is the first single off Western Stars. Itís also one of his more optimistic pieces. Now Iím hearing a liitle bit of Bob Lind or maybe early Nilsson here. Pleasant track to be sure.

    Moonlight Motel: The album ends with an old Springsteen theme of remembering the past fondly, though this is in a more fictional setting than usual. Itís a bit quiet in tone. Like the other tracks, fairly pleasant in countrified sort of way.

    Rhinestone Cowboy: This is a bonus track and a cover of the Glen Campbell hit. I donít want to call this a classic because I hated Campbellís version at the time in 1975. This version isnít bad though, probably because it doesnít have the same MOR trappings the original track did. Yeah, Iíd say Springsteenís version is a bit superior.






    OVERALL EFFECT:
    So, this is a decent collection following a theme. I guess in some ways this is comparable to his actual acoustic efforts though I donít find this one quite as strong. I do like the live tracks quite a bit. Itís themed not only in terms to the movie the songs were written for, but in terms of the musical style in general. If it wasnít for something I just recently learned I would have to wonder if Springsteen was abandoning the E-Street sound for good as maybe he didnít want to turn into The Rolling Stones or U2.

    Having said that, this is a pleasant album overall. While I canít rate it as highly as the critics evidently did, I did like it better than High Hopes and it certainly is a solid piece of work by the Boss. So with thatÖ

    MUSTYíS RATING: 1/2

    The Word has Spoken


    And that wraps up my Reviewing Bruce Springsteen project. He hasnít abandoned the E-Street band as of yet as they are reportedly working on a new album as we speak, well, at least according to Wiki anyway. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the reviews. Maybe there are some Springsteen albums you rate as your favorites. Add on to this thread about the Boss if youíd like.

    As for me, stay tuned as I come up with a new artist to review. Iím oddly enough thinking about doing The Monkees and/or maybe selected Motown albums in general. Anyhow, stay tuned because Iím not done yet.
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    And check out Gertie's blog on her favorite top twenty-five albums between 1955-2017 Hidden Content

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