BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN- HIGH HOPES

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Bruce Springsteen- High Hopes

8.1 / 10

Spare Parts:

Springsteen mines his past with a coal to diamond workingman’s craft

For his 18th studio album of High Hopes, Bruce Springsteen takes his most unorthodox path of constructing a record yet. A collection of castaways, covers, and reconstructions providing a fusion that Springsteen thought had to see the light of day. Fueling Springsteen’s drive even further was Rage Against The Machine guitarist and E Street understudy Tom Morello. A genuine guitar hero, Morello’s amplified alien landscapes were a lightning rod of inspiration according to Bruce himself, “Tom and his guitar became my muse, pushing the rest of this project to another level.”

After his fine work on Wrecking Ball producer Ron Aniello returns to the helm tasked with melding Springsteen’s perennially ambitious cinematic vision to Morello’s abstract guitar wizardry. The results are startlingly synergetic as Morello’s tones and squalls sound revitalizing interwoven throughout the various rhapsodies. Although the personnel is too wide ranging to be considered a true E Street Band record, their muscular spirit is felt throughout, exemplified on the opening title track. A cover of Tim Scott McConnell’s originally recorded by Springsteen on the 1996 Blood Brothers EP that was revisited on the last leg of the Wrecking Ball tour and is bolstered with flavorful horns and an incessant salsa rhythm. Bruce always being meticulous with track arrangements wanted to start things optimistically, with its exotic spontaneous nature, “High Hopes” certainly does that.

“Harry’s Place” is one of record’s finest moments and although it’s well polished sounding like a Tunnel of Love era cut it’s one of Springsteen’s grittiest character studies in years. The big city noir surrounding the tyrannical mobster known as Harry has a seedy vibe with Bruce informing you, “You don’t fuck with Harry’s money, you don’t fuck Harry’s girls.” Advice that sounds like it could make the difference between life and death. Another day in the life of these wise guys: The smoke is cleared and blood is spilled. The blurbs of saxophone and guitar sound like police sirens off in the distance but by the time they arrive on the scene… it’s too late. This is nighttime cruising music that Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski could’ve gotten onboard with.

“American Skin (41 Shots)” has been around as a live performance since the E Street Band’s reunion shows from 1999-2000 and originally written after New York City Cops shot and killed an unarmed Amadou Diallo in 1999. An appropriate time for this track to resurface and receive proper studio treatment in the wake of the Trayvon Martin incident as well as the endless litany of mass public shootings, it’s more relevant than ever. Distorted vocals haunt the background and Morello shines for the first time on “American Skin” with his soaring guitar playing, like a supernatural compass for wayward souls.

“Just Like Fire Would” is another cover, a tale of jubilant longing and devotion this time from Australian punk band The Saints before cooling into the tremendous outtake “Down in the Hole” from The Rising sessions. With the same chest-bursting sincerity of “I’m On Fire,” it’s a retelling of events transpiring in the aftermath of 9/11 as Springsteen laments, “I got nothing but heart and sky and sunshine, the things you left behind, I wake to find my city’s gone to black. The days just keep on falling, your voice it keeps on calling I’m gonna dig right here until I get you back. Fires keep on burning, I’m here with you in the cold.”

“Heaven’s Wall” is another ethereal vantage point that transitions to the phenomenal “Frankie Fell in Love.” Springsteen feels gob-smacked by the unbridled intoxication of love, a truly rousing song that would feel right at home with some of the other exhilarating rockers on The River. “This is Your Sword” dabbles in rollicking Celtic music that Springsteen has been involved with more frequently followed by the lilting strings waltz of “Hunter Of Invisible Game.” Its lush beauty veiling the true heartbreak as Springsteen sings, “We all come up a little short and we go down hard. These days I spend my time skipping through the dark. Through the empires of dust, I chant your name. I am the hunter of invisible game.”

The most controversial move on High Hopes is the radically transformed version of an undisputed classic, “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” Although this adaptation is no new revelation to the majority of the Springsteen faithful as this version with the full E Street Band has been played live multiple times, even featuring Morello on several occasions over the past few years. With Springsteen and Morello trading verses, the stark baron wasteland of the original is replaced by a fully-armored insurgent march of electricity. Morello’s transcendental wailing and screeching of guitar is a prodigious jolt, an atomic shockwave and guerilla warfare proclamation. Completely reimagined, “Tom Joad” morphs from bleak requiem to defiant rally cry.

“The Wall” refers to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C. paying tribute to the lives lost in a conflict that defined a generation. A eulogy that Springsteen culled from his deepest fathoms for friends he lost in Vietnam as he grieves, “This black stone and these hard tears are all I got left of you now.” There’s also the visceral survivor’s guilt, were it not for a failed Physical decades ago, Springsteen (Who was legitimately drafted for the war) may have been one of the names on that wall. If you believe in divine intervention, Springsteen just might be living proof of such a thing.

The closer “Dream Baby Dream” is one of the most obscure finales in Springsteen’s catalog. A cover of electro-punk duo Suicide from their 1980 LP is another dramatically altered rendition. The pulsating original has been converted to a swaying Elysian psalm that could be seen as a cumulative benediction, purposefully placed in the exact spot it should be.

2012’s Wrecking Ball was engineered as a modern day folk album so it should come as no surprise that Bruce treated High Hopes with an archivist’s approach. Not only of his own music, but cherished obscurities by other artists he also held in high regard. The lack of a linear narrative hinders the album at times, but only slightly. In fact some may even feel this record sounds more like a unified effort than the Ellis Island melting pot of Wrecking Ball. At its core High Hopes is still rich with the prevailing themes that are abundant in Springsteen’s oeuvre: Faith, love, loss, redemption, and triumph amongst others. As for Bruce’s prolific output in the latter days of his career, it doesn’t appear he is planning on retirement anytime soon. With plenty of material left to excavate and revive along with a continuous outpouring of new ideas, Springsteen made this keen observation, “It’s like that old story. The light from the oncoming train focuses the mind.”

 Bruce and Morello

(Blood Brothers: Tom and Bruce- The Boss uses Morello’s guitar to channel his muse)

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN & THE E STREET BAND- LIVE AT WRIGLEY FIELD 9/7/12

It’s been two weeks now since I saw Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band play at historic Wrigley Field in Chicago. I still cannot grasp the magnitude of this show. I didn’t think Bruce would ever be able to top his 3+ hour show from St. Paul, MN from May of 2009 as my favorite live show I’ve ever been to. Then he pulled out all of the stops on September 7th, 2012. Bruce and company hit Wrigley with searing falling meteor intensity and the force of a 10 megaton A-bomb. It was a relentless 3 and 1/2 hour marathon show. If The Boss with the E Street Band wasn’t enough they had a couple (cough) locals come out. Tom Morello and Eddie Vedder. Tom Morello and Eddie fuckin’ Vedder! My head was bout to explode! The most eclectic set I’ve seen from Springsteen that’s for sure. The memorable moments seemed endless beginning with “Prove It All Night” with the 1978 extended piano/guitar intro. Other rarities I loved included “My Love Will Not Let You Down”, and one of my all-time favorites “Spirit in the Night”. Morello played blistering maddening guitar on seven songs including his crowning moment the cosmic mind-bending solos from “The Ghost Of Tom Joad”. Bruce and Eddie performed a duet of “Atlantic City”. It’s a real treat to listen to Eddie’s voice live. He has a voice that could make you melt. The encore was brilliant loaded heavily with cuts from Born To Run. “Thunder Road”, “Born To Run” and a beautiful moving tribute to Clarence Clemons on “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”. The best moment however, was the one song I’ve wanted to see the most live, and I finally got it. Jungleland. JUNGLELAND. I could, and perhaps I should just leave it at that, it’s really tough to put into words what this song means to me. It’s the consummate Springsteen song, maybe my favorite Springsteen song. It’s everything that’s good about Rock & Roll, about music. It’s the greatest epic album closer of any album ever made in my opinion. It’s spiritual, and you feel like you’re achieving transcendence. As for that legendary Clarence Clemons sax solo? His nephew Jake Clemons nailed it just as he did with every other sax solo that night. I was impressed. Very few songs have moved me to tears, but they were certainly welling up in my eyes. Not out of misery or sadness, but pure ebullience, ecstasy. I could die a happy man after hearing that. Bruce and friends closed out the set with a rapturous cover of “Twist And Shout” just a shade under midnight. My throat was shot, I was sweating despite it being a windy cool night, and physical sore. In a nutshell I was exhausted and there was a man onstage nearly 63 years old besting me! Unbelievable! Humans shouldn’t have that type of endurance, let alone at 63! Bruce’s fans demand a great deal from him live night after night after night. And he always delivers. Conversely Bruce expects that same passion back from the audience. We’re doing everything we can Boss! Thanks Boss… again. Here’s the write-up courtesy of Backstreets.com:


September 7 / Wrigley Field / Chicago, IL

Notes: During tonight’s “roll call,” Bruce had a special introduction to make: “Born in Chicago in 1951, Mr. Nils Lofgren!” But Nils wasn’t the only native son in the house tonight — this first of two shows at Wrigley Field felt almost like Old Home Night, with major guest spots from Tom Morello (who grew up in the Chicago suburb of Libertyville) and Eddie Vedder (born and raised in Evanston). Both Springsteen pals are lifelong Cubs fans, clearly thrilled to be on stage in the Friendly Confines, and they each pitched in on several songs. As Bruce said, it was “a cavalcade — a cavalcade of stars!”

Morello threw down perfectly wrought solos for his Wrecking Ball staples “Death to My Hometown” and “Jack of All Trades.” He was back later for his trademark electric “The Ghost of Tom Joad” duet, trading vocals and guitar leads with Springsteen (truly shredding — and scratching — by the end), and he remained on stage as that energy kept flowing for an ecstatic “Badlands” and the set-closing “Land of Hope and Dreams.” Mid-set, Vedder strapped on a guitar for “Atlantic City,” sharing lead vocals on a stellar performance. Eddie and Tom both came back in the encores.

Spread throughout the set, a trove of mid-’80s rarities. The band broke out “My Love Will Not Let You Down” in the second slot — a real highlight, with that classic chiming guitar trio of Nils, Bruce, and Steve downstage, as well as a kick-ass drum breakdown from Max. There was also a muscular “Trapped,” one of those relative obscurities that still galvanizes a stadium crowd; “I’m Goin’ Down” (which led right into the more frequently spotted “Darlington County”); and a true rarity, played live by the E Street Band only twice before, “None But the Brave.” “I think this is a tour debut, I could be wrong,” Bruce said, and he was right. “This is for all the hardcore fans out there. This was written for Born in the U.S.A. Didn’t make it on there.” Sounding surprisingly well-rehearsed (it was soundchecked in Philadelphia, at least), “None But the Brave” was absolutely majestic, Eddie Manion bringing it home at the end, blowing for all he’s worth.

The concert began with the ’78-style intro to “Prove It All Night.” Coveted as it is by those aforementioned hardcore fans, and for good reason, it made a slightly strange opener — an extended instrumental to start the show — and there wasn’t clear recognition among the crowd until the song’s main piano riff kicked in. But plenty of power there regardless, big cheers for Jake, and Nils twirling away on a fierce solo at the end. Followed by “My Love,” it was a killer one-two punch.

The next two songs setlisted were “Adam Raised a Cain” and “Lost in the Flood,” and you can gather how Bruce’s mood must have changed between writing the setlist and playing the show, as he replaced them with audibles of “Out in the Street” and “Hungry Heart.” For the latter he ventured out into the crowd, saluting fans on the “Wrigley Rooftops” just outside the ballpark, even adding a nod to the Drifters’ “Up on the Roof” as the song went along. But despite that shift to stadium-friendly crowd-pleasers, which gave the show some ups and downs, there was really something for everybody tonight. Radio hits, deep cuts, special guests, strong Wrecking Ball performances (“Shackled and Drawn” was a particular showstopper, Cindy Mizelle just tearing it up), and, in the encore, a glittery sign request from a “14-year-old lady” granted for “Jungleland.” It’s the first “Jungleland” I’ve seen with Jake, and my emotions were all over the place — though what got me in my gut was not Jake’s solo (which was pretty damn faultless), but Bruce’s wordless vocals at the end, those howls into the night sky. No wonder he keeps talking about ghosts.

And then Tom Morello and Eddie Vedder were back on stage for the last two songs, Tom in his Cubs cap, both beaming as bright as Wrigley’s night baseball lights, sharing Steve’s mic on “Twist and Shout” as they sent us home dancing. What more do you want? A cool, breezy night, perfectly dry despite the predicted thunderstorms? Yeah, we got that too.
– Christopher Phillips reporting – photographs by C.P. (1,3) and Lois Bernstein (2, 4-8)

Setlist:
Prove It All Night (’78 intro)
My Love Will Not Let You Down
Out in the Street
Hungry Heart
We Take Care of Our Own
Wrecking Ball
Death to My Hometown (with Tom Morello)
My City of Ruins
Spirit in the Night
Trapped
Jack of All Trades (with Tom Morello)
Atlantic City (with Eddie Vedder)
Lonesome Day
I’m Goin’ Down
Darlington County
Shackled and Drawn
Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
None But the Brave
The Ghost of Tom Joad (with Tom Morello)
Badlands (with Tom Morello)
Land of Hope and Dreams (with Tom Morello)
* * *
We Are Alive
Thunder Road
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Jungleland
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out (with Morello and Vedder)
Twist and Shout (with Morello and Vedder)

(Changes)

Still waiting for my diploma in the mail. Apparently they’re supposed to be mailed this week. Alright University of Iowa and USPS, don’t blow this!

On a different note. I may have stepped foot in 5420 Gordon Ave. for the last time today. After 27 years, my parents are moving out and into a smaller apartment/condo.  Makes sense, no more kids in the nest. Plus it was so rundown, I think this will be good for them. I lived there for 20 years of my life. A lot of memories to say the least. Helping them move this weekend was daunting, but I’m glad I helped. One final send off for 5420…

 

 

 

Elsewhere, I’m getting very excited for the albums coming out this Summer/Fall. Yes, I’m obsessed with music. But you know what? Music is so great. At least the kind I listen to anyway. There’s no shortage of juggernauts coming out, but I’m always on the look out for new artists on the rise too. Just a few notables include new records by The Gaslight Anthem, Band of Horses, The Avett Brothers, Green Day, The Killers, Muse, Mumford & Sons, Soundgarden and The Flaming Lips. There’s also numerous other rumored records to be released, most notably Bob Dylan. This is sounding like a lock, but not 100% guaranteed. There hasn’t been a lot of information released regarding the record, but the stuff that has been, has got me salivating. Dylan is a master when it comes crafting lengthy songs and there’s a rumored 9-minute song as well as a staggering 14-minute song, supposedly about the Titanic. That would be his second longest song ever recorded on an album behind “Highlands” which runs longer than 16-minutes. The record is also said to be around 68 minutes. I’m a sucker for long albums too, the more Dylan the better.

In 2008 and 2009 I wrote about the top 10 albums of the year. Stepped up my game a bit in 2010 and wrote about the Top 25 albums of that year. Then I went a little further in 2011 and did a top 30 albums. This year, for 2012? I’m aiming for 50. 50 records to write about! I just may be able to pull this one off. Most people probably don’t even buy 50 records in 2-3 years, let alone 50+ in one year that they have to narrow it down to. I’ve already started to keep track of records and have a rough sketch of the top 20 so far. So far Bruce Springsteen is still #1 with Wrecking Ball, a spot he’s held onto since early March. The only record to come close to challenging it is the surprising surge of the all thrills no frills, all killer no filler of Japandroids’ Celebration Rock. Man they really knocked my wind out with this record, it’s phenomenal, not a bad second on it. I’ve raved about it over the past month. Can’t say enough good things about it. I’d say they’re the Cinderella story of the year, knocking it out of the park ahead of some of the established giants in rock & roll. Anyway, you know the top two, here’s the complete top 20:

1. Bruce Springsteen- Wrecking Ball

2. Japandroids- Celebration Rock

3. The Tallest Man on Earth- There’s No Leaving Now

4. Ben Kweller- Go Fly A Kite

5. Jack White- Blunderbuss

6. The Lumineers- The Lumineers

7. Of Monsters And Men- My Head Is An Animal

8. The Hives- Lex Hives

9. The Shins- Port Of Morrow

10. The Walkmen- Heaven

11. The Smashing Pumpkins- Oceania

12. Delta Spirit- Delta Spirit

13. Fun.- Some Nights

14. Heartless Bastards- Arrow

15. Silversun Pickups- Neck Of The Woods

16. The Beach Boys- That’s Why God Made The Radio

17. Andrew Bird- Break It Yourself

18. Alabama Shakes- Boys & Girls

19. Trampled By Turtles- Stars And Satellites

20. Vintage Trouble- The Bomb Shelter Sessions

There’s a lot of other records I’ve purchased too, but I whittled it down to 20 for now. It’ll be tough to knock The Boss out of that #1 spot, but with these rumors swirling of Dylan’s album being a monster, he could definitely do it. And not because of a Dylan bias since he is my favorite artist, because I try to be as objective as possible. In 2009 Dylan’s Together Through Life, although a very good record, did not even crack my top five that year. The reason is because, well, Bob Dylan has been on a roll for 15 years now including three masterpieces in a row with Time Out Of Mind, “Love & Theft”, and Modern Times. That and his brilliant collection of outtakes and alternate takes of latter day recordings with the bootleg series Tell Tale Signs. On those records and bootlegs are some of the finest moments in Dylan’s career, and that’s saying a lot. If Dylan’s feeling up to it, he can topple anyone, including Springsteen with another marvelous record. Not a knock on Bruce, but there’s only one Bob Dylan. Anyway I’m rambling, just really excited about the prospects of this Dylan album.

Continuing on the music circuit, sort of, can August get here yet? I am taking 10 days off in August, it’s going to be great. What do I have on my plate? A gauntlet of greatness. August 1st: The Black Keys in Council Bluffs, August 3rd-5th: Lollapalooza in Chicago, August 19th: Dawes at The Englert, Bob Dylan in Rochester on August 21st, and then Apple River to close it all out from August 23rd-26th. Yeah, August is going to be great.

Let’s not forget, shortly after that… Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band in Chicago, Wrigley Field on September 7th. Nuff said. Can’t get anymore epic than that.

Well, that’s all for now on the ramblin’ trail…

wait!

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN- WRECKING BALL REVIEW

Bruce Springsteen- Wrecking Ball:

Darkness in America, a conflicted Boss returns…

Bruce Springsteen has always been one for painting huge sweeping cinematic moments in his rich canon of work… so picture this: Working on a Dream represented an optimistic sea change in 2009. It almost directly coincided with the inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States. It finally seemed an upswing was going to happen. Three years later, The Boss returns with his hand still gripped firmly around the neck of his telecaster looking out upon the greater American frontier. But this time, his hand toughened and calloused, his lungs breathing in a cold dry air, his operatic Roy Orbison-worthy croon hardened into a gruff coal-mining bellow and his eyes dulled and gray, robbed of the vibrancy and hope from WOAD due to corruption, death, and deception. Bruce looks out to the horizon, past countless rows of foreclosed homes to find nothing has been settled. He kneels down and tightens the laces on his scuffed and worn work boots. There’s still a lot of work to be done. The work never ends.

Bruce Springsteen has plenty to be disillusioned about in 2012. As we grow older, the only thing that is certain is that death looms and eventually finds us all and we’ll lose friends and loved ones on the journey. Bruce’s last three studio albums now have each been marred by particularly close and painful deaths. Before the release of 2007’s Magic Bruce’s long-time personal assistant Frank “Terry” Magovern passed away causing Bruce to pay homage to him in “Terry’s Song” on the same album. Shortly after, in the Spring of 2008, organist/accordion player and original E Street Band member Dan Federici lost his battle with melanoma causing Bruce to pen “The Last Carnival” for him on WOAD. Then there was the loss that shook him to the core more than any other. In 2011, Clarence Clemons passed away after complications from a stroke he suffered a week earlier. Clemons was not only an E Street original as well, but in a sense he WAS the E Street Band. He embodied all that was good in the band. He was the heart and undisputed Minister of soul in the band. His saxophone was the backbone and majesty of countless Springsteen classics. It was such a staggering loss, it seemed nearly unfathomable that Bruce could continue with the E Street Band. Then there’s the darkness still prevalent on Wall Street and in Washington. The Capitol’s been mired in tar-thick corruption by a government bickering into perpetual gridlock and the poor and working-class people of America are having their American Dream constantly smothered and sequestered by big banks while they watch their homes literally get taken from them. All of these conflicts provided the fuel and stoked the fires in Springsteen’s guts to create 2012’s baptism-by-fire Wrecking Ball.

(Wrecking Ball: Rising bold and stark)

Lyrically, Wrecking Ball is one of the most direct records of Springsteen’s as even he stated. The content and characters are amongst the darkest and harrowing he’s written about since perhaps the social immigration unrest of The Ghost of Tom Joad or the even more desolate and stark Nebraska. Sonically however it’s much more of a deceptive blend. A melting pot of genres and influences which may have actually been spurred by the 2006 We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions which was an unusual success unifying folk standards handed down from Pete Seeger with Springsteen’s freewheelin’ Seeger Sessions backing band. The Grass-roots amalgamation of early American forms of music can definitely be heard through-out Wrecking Ball and the spontaneity of The Seeger Sessions courses through its veins. Bruce however does not forget that he’s always been a passionate disciple of Rock & Roll and may now be its greatest elderly statesman. Cue rafter-shaking opener, the “Badlands” style uprising of “We Take Care of Our Own”. If you look at the chorus by itself A.K.A. listening to it with GOP ears it sounds like a gigantic patriotic anthem, “We take care of our own/ Where ever this flag’s flown/ We take care of our own”. Hopefully the stuffy Right-Wing elephants learned a lesson from Ronald Reagan when he ran for re-election as President in 1984 attempting to use Springsteen’s song “Born in the USA” foolishly and recklessly mistaking it as a towering “Bound for Glory” American monument. A monument indeed but not the one Reagan was skulking around for and anyone that paid an ounce of attention to the rest of the body of the song’s content at all could only shake their heads in dismay. “We Take Care of Our Own” is similar to “Born in the USA”, dressed up in a pop fist-pumping glaze augmented by powerful orchestration that’s actually a scathing indictment of the institution. Seven years after Hurricane Katrina the ghosts still float up Highway 61 from New Orleans conjuring images of the poor left behind to toil in the squalor and foul excrement of the Super Dome. “From Chicago to New Orleans/ From the muscle to the bone/ From the shotgun shack to the Super Dome”. The nightmare scene still lingers. Bruce’s lyrics are as pummeling as the song itself when he laments, “There ain’t no help, the calvary stayed home/ There ain’t no one hearing the bugle blowin’”. It’s a song that reaches past the furthest fan from the stage at any arena or stadium all the way to our government officials, grabbing them by the collar to tell them there are still storm clouds brewing in the homeland. World police can only be played for so long before needing to look inward. “Easy Money” is another deceptively glistening track with a blend of country-fried gospel drenched in fiddle and a clap/stomp drum beat with the same exuberant DNA as “Into The Fire” from The Rising. We come to find that this individual is as lost as Frankie or Johnny 99 heading to town armed with a Smith & Wesson .38. His justice will be swift at the end of a smoking gun barrel if he’s crossed. “Shackled And Drawn” is about as buoyant of a sound as you can get when dealing with the greed of Wall Street.  The lyrics eerily echo the sentiments proposed by Woody Guthrie at one point with “The Jolly Banker”. You could easily hear Bruce singing this alongside Pete Seeger at a future Newport Folk Festival as he sings, “It’s still fat and easy up on banker’s hill/ Up on banker’s hill, the party’s going strong/ Down here below we’re shackled and drawn.” Bruce has clearly soaked in the wars waged on Wall Street gathering that the fat cats are still able to have their gourmet cake and eat it too. Then they can wipe their husky faces clean with 100-dollar bills and foreclosure papers. “Jack of All Trades” is a somber blue-collar piano ballad with Hispanic-tinged flavor including South-of-the-border horn arrangements and allusions to Jesus and Carpentry work. Bruce reassuringly stands his ground, growling lines like, “If I had me a gun/ I’d find the bastards and shoot ‘em on sight/ I’m Jack of all trades/ We’ll be all right” before giving way to a searing stratospheric Wah-Wah outro guitar solo by guesting Tom Morello.  “Death to My Hometown” is the most rollicking Celtic song Bruce has written besides maybe “American Land” that suggests he’s been hanging out with the raucous lads in the Dropkick Murphys more. Backed by Irish flute and a pulverizing boot stomp, Bruce is on top of his game lyrically here effortlessly pulling Irish Isles poetry from some the darkest wells of his soul. “No shells ripped the evening sky/ No cities burning down/ No armies stormed the shores for which we’d die/ No dictators were crowned.” Or “They destroyed our families’ factories and they took our homes/ They left our bodies on the plains/ The vultures picked our bones.” And “Now get yourself a song to sing and sing it ’til you’re done/ Yeah, sing it hard and sing it well/ Send the robber baron’s straight to hell.” They sound like forlorn passages that could’ve been written a century ago in Ireland. A lamentable tale that doubles as a pint-slosher. You can picture Bruce singing it arm-in-arm with the Clancy Brothers and the aforementioned Murphys in a tavern somewhere on the North side of Dublin. Following that is “This Depression” which is a caliginous dirge with atmospheric crackling bursts of Morello guitar before coming to the title track “Wrecking Ball”. Bruce originally released this song during a 2009 multi-night run in the soon-to-be demolished Meadowlands, home of the New York Giants. The song was initially a tribute to the stadium but now serves a dual purpose. It pays homage to a landmark near Springsteen’s own backyard of New Jersey but it’s also become a ringing clarion-call of defiance of oppressive forces. With the muscular lush backdrop you get the most visceral feel of Springsteen on the record spitting in the face of adversity, by stating, “If you think it’s your time/ Then step to the line/ And bring on your wrecking ball!”. “You’ve Got It” is a slow-burning Delta blues number that meets the lost highway and “Rocky Ground” is the most spiritually beautiful song on the record. This is definitely Bruce at his most righteous sounding like a preacher blasting like a faithful furnace howling, “I’m a soldier!” throughout it. It sounds like a Sunday hymn complete with a backing gospel choir and it has the elements of a Tunnel of Love track but it more so recalls his hauntingly gorgeous Oscar-winning “Streets of Philadelphia” complete with that familiar drum loop. Then comes the album’s centerpiece and its finest hour with “Land of Hope and Dreams”. Fans have been clamoring for years for this song to be given proper studio treatment as Springsteen has been performing it consistently live since 1999. Justice is done to the song as it’s another undisputed classic Springsteen epic in his legendary back catalog at nearly seven minutes. It’s given an additional angelic overhaul and it’s a monumental voyage of redemption and salvation as Springsteen proclaims, “This train, carries saints and sinners/ This train, carries losers and winners/ This train, carries whores and gamblers/ This train, carries lost souls/ This train, dreams will not be thwarted/ This train, faith will be rewarded/ This train, hear the steel wheels  singin’/ This train, bells of freedom ringin’”. Then there is perhaps the most ethereal moment when the final sax solo on a Springsteen record of his departed comrade Clarence Clemons comes blasting through the speakers. It’s the welcomed familiar sound that transcends the song itself as well as four decades of music together. A fitting coda for a fallen brother who will eternally remain the heart and soul of the E Street Band. Bruce adds Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” at the end to give The Big Man safe passage into the immortality of the heavens.  For all of us still earthly bound, Springsteen closes Wrecking Ball with “We Are Alive” which just might be his “We Shall Overcome”.  It’s a jubilant rallying cry of unity and solidarity even in the face of death over a whistle-while-you-work riff borrowed from the horn section of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”. Springsteen tries to have optimism in some of the darkest corners singing, “We are alive/ And though our bodies lie alone here in the dark/ Our spirits rise to carry the fire and light the spark/ To stand shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart”. It’s a fitting paean to close out an album filled with bleak tales of despair, a beacon of light burning bright.

In many ways Wrecking Ball is genuinely the most American record Springsteen has ever made. We are all descendants of immigrants to this soil, there is no getting around it and it’s only getting more diverse. And as diverse as it has become, so too is the landscape of Wrecking Ball. It’s a conglomeration of traditional Americana folk, Irish balladry, gospel, R&B, blues, country, Hispanic , and even hip-hop influences built on the solid foundation of Rock & Roll that has driven Springsteen and his work for over four decades now. Bruce has given us an undeniably profound and rich modern folk-rock masterpiece. These stories don’t just belong to him anymore, they belong to all of us. That is the truest sense of what folk music is all about. There’s no “I” or “mine” or “yours”, it is empowerment through solidarity. This era has just been made timeless. They should make room in the archive of American folk music and on the Library of Congress recording’s shelves because Wrecking Ball isn’t only a brilliant record, it’s damn important. Alan Lomax would be reveling in its majesty too. The messages are intended to reverberate through the ages and generations. These are still troubling times, but it would seem that as long as there’s still that small glimmer in Bruce’s eye, the promised land can never be lost.

(Bruce Springsteen- The work is never done)

1. We Take Care of Our Own ✔

2. Easy Money ✔

3. Shackled And Drawn

4. Jack Of All Trades

5. Death To My Hometown ✔

6. This Depression

7. Wrecking Ball ✔

8. You’ve Got It

9. Rocky Ground

10. Land of Hope and Dreams ✔

11. We Are Alive ✔

By Matt Ireland

R.I.P. CLARENCE CLEMONS

 

CLARENCE “BIG MAN” CLEMONS

1942-2011 

I was shaken to the core Saturday night June 18th, 2011 receiving the news that Clarence Anicholas Clemons passed away due to complications from a stroke he suffered a week earlier. He was 69 years old. Anyone that knows anything regarding the lore within the realm of Bruce Springsteen and the legendary E Street Band knows that more than anyone else, Clarence was the heart and soul at its epicenter. Upon hearing of his death, Bruce Springsteen said it best, with gut-check sorrow, “His loss is immeasurable”. I couldn’t agree more. It’s impossible to completely state in words the feelings I had that night or still have to this day. It’s impossible to truly state how important he was to the E Street Band. He embodied a certain vitality, an urban cool that swung with surging might breathing life into songs with his famous saxophone.  He had the greatest sax solos in rock & roll history that sent an urgency, an energy, a spirit coursing through some of Springsteen’s greatest songs including: Born to Run, Thunder Road, Badlands, Kitty’s Back, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), The E Street Shuffle, Spirit in the Night, She’s The One, Meeting Across the River, The Promised Land, Prove it All Night, The Ties That Bind, Ramrod, Bobby Jean, The Fever, Blood Brothers, Murder Incorporated, Waitin’ on a Sunny Day, Radio Nowhere, My Lucky Day, and even had a song centered around him in Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out (When the change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band). Without Clarence supplying the enduring blast of sax to these songs and giving them the life-blood they needed, they would have lacked some of the visceral emotions necessary and may not have existed at all. But there is one moment, in my opinion that Clarence still shines above all other moments, and that is in the epic Born to Run album finale, “Jungleland”. “Jungleland” is something to behold. I’ve said it before and I’ll stand by it to this day that “Jungleland” is not only the best epic album closer, but it’s the best closer of any album ever. Everything that’s great about rock & roll is encapsulated in this song. The innocence, the romance, the rebellion, the angst, the beauty, the ferocity, the intensity, the ebullience, it’s all here. At 9 minutes and 33 seconds, it’s staggering in length but it’s also the fastest 9:33 song you’ll ever hear. So incredible in cinematic scope, it’s James Dean, it’s Brando, it’s “Rebel Without a Cause”, it’s “Street Car Named Desire”, it’s Elvis, it’s the Jersey turnpike in the midnight hour, it’s the quintessential Springsteen song. If there was ever was one song where I believed transcendence was absolutely possible through the power of music, it’s this one. But at its zenith, its pinnacle is Clarence and his legendary “Jungleland” sax solo. It’s a sheer night-journey of indescribable power. So celestial, so ethereal. I love turning this song on and driving at night. I never cease to get goosebumps every time I hear it. I can’t imagine it without that sax solo, or maybe I just don’t want to. A lot of my musical heroes are getting up there in age these days, and Clarence was the first major hit on my radar. I’m still devastated and I can only hope that after 12 years of Catholic schooling I can truly believe that Clarence is up there, somewhere better playing that saxophone giving Heaven vibrant explosions and a soulful cool that it hadn’t seen before. Rest in Peace Clarence, I’ll see you again some day brother.

 


 

Below is a link to a fantastic Clarence Clemons tribute by Nick Mead. Watch it and enjoy.

http://player.vimeo.com/video/25471072?title=0&byline=0&portrait=0

I figured in closing I’ll leave you with the eulogy by Bruce Springsteen given at Clarence’s funeral:

I’ve been sitting here listening to everyone talk about Clarence and staring at that photo of the two of us right there. It’s a picture of Scooter and The Big Man, people who we were sometimes. As you can see in this particular photo, Clarence is admiring his muscles and I’m pretending to be nonchalant while leaning upon him. I leaned on Clarence a lot; I made a career out of it in some ways.

Those of us who shared Clarence’s life, shared with him his love and his confusion. Though “C” mellowed with age, he was always a wild and unpredictable ride. Today I see his sons Nicky, Chuck, Christopher and Jarod sitting here and I see in them the reflection of a lot of C’s qualities. I see his light, his darkness, his sweetness, his roughness, his gentleness, his anger, his brilliance, his handsomeness, and his goodness. But, as you boys know your pop was a not a day at the beach. “C” lived a life where he did what he wanted to do and he let the chips, human and otherwise, fall where they may. Like a lot of us your pop was capable of great magic and also of making quite an amazing mess. This was just the nature of your daddy and my beautiful friend. Clarence’s unconditional love, which was very real, came with a lot of conditions. Your pop was a major project and always a work in progress. “C” never approached anything linearly, life never proceeded in a straight line. He never went A… B…. C…. D. It was always A… J…. C…. Z… Q… I….! That was the way Clarence lived and made his way through the world. I know that can lead to a lot of confusion and hurt, but your father also carried a lot of love with him, and I know he loved each of you very very dearly.

It took a village to take care of Clarence Clemons. Tina, I’m so glad you’re here. Thank you for taking care of my friend, for loving him. Victoria, you’ve been a loving, kind and caring wife to Clarence and you made a huge difference in his life at a time when the going was not always easy. To all of “C’s” vast support network, names too numerous to mention, you know who you are and we thank you. Your rewards await you at the pearly gates. My pal was a tough act but he brought things into your life that were unique and when he turned on that love light, it illuminated your world. I was lucky enough to stand in that light for almost 40 years, near Clarence’s heart, in the Temple of Soul.

So a little bit of history: from the early days when Clarence and I traveled together, we’d pull up to the evening’s lodgings and within minutes “C” would transform his room into a world of his own. Out came the colored scarves to be draped over the lamps, the scented candles, the incense, the patchouli oil, the herbs, the music, the day would be banished, entertainment would come and go, and Clarence the Shaman would reign and work his magic, night after night. Clarence’s ability to enjoy Clarence was incredible. By 69, he’d had a good run, because he’d already lived about 10 lives, 690 years in the life of an average man. Every night, in every place, the magic came flying out of C’s suitcase. As soon as success allowed, his dressing room would take on the same trappings as his hotel room until a visit there was like a trip to a sovereign nation that had just struck huge oil reserves. “C” always knew how to live. Long before Prince was out of his diapers, an air of raunchy mysticism ruled in the Big Man’s world. I’d wander in from my dressing room, which contained several fine couches and some athletic lockers, and wonder what I was doing wrong! Somewhere along the way all of this was christened the Temple of Soul; and “C” presided smilingly over its secrets, and its pleasures. Being allowed admittance to the Temple’s wonders was a lovely thing.

As a young child my son Sam became enchanted with the Big Man… no surprise. To a child Clarence was a towering fairy tale figure, out of some very exotic storybook. He was a dreadlocked giant, with great hands and a deep mellifluous voice sugared with kindness and regard. And… to Sammy, who was just a little white boy, he was deeply and mysteriously black. In Sammy’s eyes, “C” must have appeared as all of the African continent, shot through with American cool, rolled into one welcoming and loving figure. So… Sammy decided to pass on my work shirts and became fascinated by Clarence’s suits and his royal robes. He declined a seat in dad’s van and opted for “C’s” stretch limousine, sitting by his side on the slow cruise to the show. He decided dinner in front of the hometown locker just wouldn’t do, and he’d saunter up the hall and disappear into the Temple of Soul.

Of course, also enchanted was Sam’s dad, from the first time I saw my pal striding out of the shadows of a half empty bar in Asbury Park, a path opening up before him; here comes my brother, here comes my sax man, my inspiration, my partner, my lifelong friend. Standing next to Clarence was like standing next to the baddest ass on the planet. You were proud, you were strong, you were excited and laughing with what might happen, with what together, you might be able to do. You felt like no matter what the day or the night brought, nothing was going to touch you. Clarence could be fragile but he also emanated power and safety, and in some funny way we became each other’s protectors; I think perhaps I protected “C” from a world where it still wasn’t so easy to be big and black. Racism was ever present and over the years together, we saw it. Clarence’s celebrity and size did not make him immune. I think perhaps “C” protected me from a world where it wasn’t always so easy to be an insecure, weird and skinny white boy either. But, standing together we were badass, on any given night, on our turf, some of the baddest asses on the planet. We were united, we were strong, we were righteous, we were unmovable, we were funny, we were corny as hell and as serious as death itself. And we were coming to your town to shake you and to wake you up. Together, we told an older, richer story about the possibilities of friendship that transcended those I’d written in my songs and in my music. Clarence carried it in his heart. It was a story where the Scooter and the Big Man not only busted the city in half, but we kicked ass and remade the city, shaping it into the kind of place where our friendship would not be such an anomaly. And that… that’s what I’m gonna miss. The chance to renew that vow and double down on that story on a nightly basis, because that is something, that is the thing that we did together… the two of us. Clarence was big, and he made me feel, and think, and love, and dream big. How big was the Big Man? Too fucking big to die. And that’s just the facts. You can put it on his grave stone, you can tattoo it over your heart. Accept it… it’s the New World.

Clarence doesn’t leave the E Street Band when he dies. He leaves when we die.

So, I’ll miss my friend, his sax, the force of nature his sound was, his glory, his foolishness, his accomplishments, his face, his hands, his humor, his skin, his noise, his confusion, his power, his peace. But his love and his story, the story that he gave me, that he whispered in my ear, that he allowed me to tell… and that he gave to you… is gonna carry on. I’m no mystic, but the undertow, the mystery and power of Clarence and my friendship leads me to believe we must have stood together in other, older times, along other rivers, in other cities, in other fields, doing our modest version of god’s work… work that’s still unfinished. So I won’t say goodbye to my brother, I’ll simply say, see you in the next life, further on up the road, where we will once again pick up that work, and get it done.

Big Man, thank you for your kindness, your strength, your dedication, your work, your story. Thanks for the miracle… and for letting a little white boy slip through the side door of the Temple of Soul.

SO LADIES AND GENTLEMAN… ALWAYS LAST, BUT NEVER LEAST. LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE MASTER OF DISASTER, the BIG KAHUNA, the MAN WITH A PHD IN SAXUAL HEALING, the DUKE OF PADUCAH, the KING OF THE WORLD, LOOK OUT OBAMA! THE NEXT BLACK PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES EVEN THOUGH HE’S DEAD… YOU WISH YOU COULD BE LIKE HIM BUT YOU CAN’T! LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE BIGGEST MAN YOU’VE EVER SEEN!… GIVE ME A C-L-A-R-E-N-C-E. WHAT’S THAT SPELL? CLARENCE! WHAT’S THAT SPELL? CLARENCE! WHAT’S THAT SPELL? CLARENCE! … amen.

I’m gonna leave you today with a quote from the Big Man himself, which he shared on the plane ride home from Buffalo, the last show of the last tour. As we celebrated in the front cabin congratulating one another and telling tales of the many epic shows, rocking nights and good times we’d shared, “C” sat quietly, taking it all in, then he raised his glass, smiled and said to all gathered, “This could be the start of something big.”

Love you, “C”.

 

Bruce turns 60…

THE BOSS AT 60




















It’s pretty hard to believe how old some of my idols are getting these days. But to say that Bruce Springsteen is turning 60 today seems even harder to fathom. The man that always embodied everything that makes Rock & Roll so great. The exuberance, the hope, the faith, the fear, the passion, the dedication, the journey, the love, the angst, the epic, the youth. The youth, that last one man. 60 years old, the line, “We ain’t that young anymore.” from ‘Thunder Road’ couldn’t be more perfect for the moment. One thing that I can take solace in though is Springsteen seems to defy aging. Sure he looks around 60 (even though I personally believe he didn’t start aging till around 2004), but make no mistake about it, he is STILL THE BOSS. If you’ve never seen a live show of his, to this day, they are still marathons that are truly something to behold. He’s getting up there in years, but his shows now are some of the greatest ever. And it’s not only Springsteen himself, but the E Street Band seems to still be on top of their game as well. I’ve been to two of his shows now this year, both being 3+ hours long. Now before you go off saying other acts play that long, 1.) They are probably not even half his age 2.) They’re probably jam bands who just stand stationary 3.) You’re seeing multiple acts during that time slot. For a man who’s 60 it still puts me in awe the amount of physicality he puts into his shows. You know the Boss will never let you down. While some of his other peers lost their way under substance abuse or other misfortunes, Bruce stayed the course and chose to stick to making great music instead. THAT is why he’s the Boss. Well just one of the reasons, but that one I might admire the most. An artist, a man that you can look up to, that your children, your grandchildren can look up to.

How about the show? It was incredible… again. An opener is NEVER needed for Springsteen. Despite having reserved seats this time, I still didn’t let it hold me back from getting wild and probably stinking out the joint, or at least those immediately around me with B.O. and pry some farts that snuck out too. Anyway, Bruce came out with the E Street Band a little after 8:00pm like a gangbuster. The House Party rockin’ ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out’ began the good times flow, followed by the fist pumping ‘Badlands’, a song that must have the Gods somewhere with two fist pumps in unison shouting “BAD-LANDS!” It’s always truly something to behold. It was a great thrill to hear ‘Candy’s Room’ with Max’s jet propulsion drumming and Springsteen’s spiraling guitar solo. ‘Outlaw Pete’ was incredible and appropriately enough got PJ jacked. ‘Hungry Heart’ was great to hear live for the first time and was a huge crowd favorite. There was the pile-driving rocker ‘Seeds’ that Moss was banking on. “FUCKIN’ SEEDS!” -Matt Moss. ‘Johnny 99’ was transformed from a sparse acoustic arrangement once again into a muscular rockabilly jam, followed by Nils Lofgren melting faces and exploding heads during a blistering solo to close ‘Youngstown’. Bruce then took requests that began with a great cover of the Stones’ ‘Satisfaction’, ‘Cadillac Ranch’, and the unstumpable E Street Band pulled through on ‘The Wanderer’. I was really glad to hear ‘Incident On 57th Street’, not only cause it’s one of my favorite Boss tunes, but because it was great to have one of PJ’s favorite obscurities played. A great rendition too. As Springsteen cut through the arena with a solo to close out the song I’m thinking, “Man I’m so used to this song roll effortlessly right into the raucous rave-up Rosalita on the album. How great would it be…” Then without missing a beat the band roars into ‘Rosalita’. Incredible once again. Man I love that song, it’ll put me in a great mood no matter what. Bruce then rolled out several great tunes from The Rising with the classic ‘Promised Land’ sandwiched in there. When ‘Born To Run’ hit the Des Moines crowd I knew I should probably tone down my howling and singing when I could taste a bit of blood in the back of my throat. ‘Thunder Road’ was fantastic, and the outro is still the greatest in Rock & Roll. ‘American Land’ was great, a song that will make you want to slam a pint and then whip the shit out of some Yankees fans. He closed it out with ‘Dancing In The Dark’ followed by ‘Glory Days’, sending everyone home happy thanking the audience for a great ‘Birthday Party!’. Bruce and the band exited the stage around 11:30pm. Here’s some extended details from Backstreets…

September 21 / Wells Fargo Arena / Des Moines, IA Notes: (Courtesy Backstreets.com)

Bruce and the band hit Des Moines just two days before Springsteen’s 60th, the closest we’ll get to a birthday show. Lots of “Happy Birthday” signs scattered around, including those words emblazoned across the shirts of two women in the crowd, who got a lot of screen time. There wasn’t a full house for the party, with much of the deck curtained off, but as is often the case, Springsteen seemed to work harder because of it.

It was an energetic show from the start, kicking off with a powerhouse trio of “Tenth Avenue,” “Badlands,” and “Candy’s Room,” with a blistering solo from the birthday boy. Max pounded the drums all night. “Two Hearts” included the “It Takes Two” outro, and by the sixth song, Springsteen circled the pit on “Hungry Heart” for the third show in a row. Tonights Recession Trio wrapped with “Youngstown,” Nils again blowing minds with his solo.

Then came a choice request set. In a WXRT interview this morning, Little Steven called the recent E Street Band world debut of “Satisfaction” “one of the greatest moments of our career.” Tonight they reprised it, bashing out the Stones classic for the second time ever. “Cadillac Ranch” followed before another first: Dion’s “The Wanderer.” Bruce and the band had a particularly long meeting before this one, but soon enough they were working it out, with an impromptu lyric change: “I tear open my shirt, I got Rosalita on my chest!” The sign for this one read, “The Wanderer… Stumped?” After their performance, Bruce tore the sign up.

You can request “Incident on 57th Street.” And Bruce and the band might play it, and you know it’ll be good. But you never know just how good it’s going to be. Tonight’s was stellar. Bruce stretched out his solo, and this was one for the ages. To top it off, they followed it, just as on the Wild & Innocent album, with a rare mid-set “Rosalita.” (Sorry, no “New York City Serenade” to close it all out.) A couple songs later, a rare “Into the Fire” was an extra request, Bruce propping the sign agains the mic stand. Lovely emotional color from Curtis and Cindy.

In the encore, Steven led the crowd in a sloppy “Happy Birthday” for the Boss. Bruce had a wry smile as he sang “we ain’t that young anymore” in “Thunder Road.” But as he told the crowd, thanking them for coming out to the show, “We’re having the best times of our lives.” Which, hovering around 60, is saying something. Soon, Springsteen had an octogenarian up on stage with him for some “Dancing in the Dark,” a nice reminder that it ain’t exactly autumn yet. Wrapping it all up fittingly with “Glory Days,” Springsteen finally hollered, “Thanks for a great birthday party!”
– photographs by Andy Lyons

Setlist:
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
Badlands
Candy’s Room
Two Hearts
Outlaw Pete
Hungry Heart
Working on a Dream
Seeds
Johnny 99
Youngstown
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
Cadillac Ranch
The Wanderer
Incident on 57th Street
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
The Promised Land
Into the Fire
Lonesome Day
The Rising
Born to Run
* * *
Thunder Road
Hard Times
Bobby Jean
American Land
Dancing in the Dark
Glory Days


Dear Mr. Bruce Springsteen,

Thank you so much for everything you’ve ever done for me. Personally, you’ll never know how many times your music, words, and actions have saved me from certain bad turns. I owe you so much, probably a summation that I’ll never be able to add up to, so I’ll just write this letter instead on a random blog. You deserve everything great in this world for your never ending dedication to your fans and the world in general. A reciprocating loyalty between fans and performer that is unmatched by ANY other artist. From your struggles to make it to the Big Top stuck in the swamps of Jersey, to you being hailed as ‘The Future of Rock & Roll’ in the rise to rock’s pantheon, the Glory Days of the 80’s, the contemplative 90’s, and the return to glory work horse ethic this decade it’s been one hell of a ride following you. And you know what? I’d like to envision this. For guy who’s seemingly always wanted the freedom of a long stretch of highway in a ’69 Chevy, this ride has been just like that. But as he looks down at the fuel gauge, something’s a little off. Instead of the fuel amount it says 60 years. Then he rubs the dust from his eyes that must have been kicked up off the road from that last stretch from Monroe to Angeline. He looks back down and sees the tank is nowhere close to empty. With that he peels off down the road on wheels of fire he traded for wings. Born to Run indeed, and he ain’t stoppin’ anytime soon. I’ve said it so many times it sounds cliche, but once more… Thanks Boss.

Man, I dug pretty deep for that last part, didn’t know I had it in me.

Happy 60th Bruce, may I live forever. And may you live forever and a day.

A DREAM REALIZED: THE BOSS RETURNS TO OFFICE AND DELIVERS ANOTHER MASTERPIECE

working-on-a-dream

big-four-half-star1

Originally posted January 25th, 2009

Bruce Springsteen has always had a firm grasp on Americana. It seems that way more so than ever since the turn of the century. He has reunited with the E Street Band on numerous ventures in the last decade, beginning with a reunion tour in 1999 lasting into 2000. In 2002, in the aftermath of the events of 9/11, Bruce and the E Street Band gave us their first album together in 18 years with the reflective modern-day masterpiece ‘The Rising’. It was requiem for a nation shrouded in grief. Bruce had his ear tilted towards the American psyche, more specifically, what the American psyche needed. He was the one guy that could build a concept record off the ruin of 9/11, and make it blossom. Where as most artists would come off as pretentious in a heavy-handed manner, it felt more sincere coming from Bruce, since the heavy activity of 9/11 took place right in his backyard. With one hand firmly on the pulse of the nation, and the other gripping the neck of his Fender Telecaster, Bruce was more vital than ever to the frontier of America. It cemented the return of, and the importance of him and the E Street Band in American music. The band reconvened with Bruce in 2007, when his hand was forced by the continuing inadequacies of former President George W. Bush’s administration to create ‘Magic’. An album that was laced with under currents of the political landscape masked in Bruce’s pop oriented songwriting, the muscular sound of the E Street Band, and the layered production of producer Brendan O’Brien. It was an album that didn’t strike an immediate chord, but grew more impressive and decisive with each listen on the stance of Bruce on current America. 16 months later Bruce returns with his third record with the E Street Band this decade in ‘Working On A Dream’. For a craftsman on the level of Bruce, this is something unheard of, usually taking years between the release of records to get them situated. Releasing two albums in this little of time apart is something that he hasn’t done since releasing his first album ‘Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.’ and his second album ‘The Wild, The Innocent, & The E Street Shuffle’ in the same year back in 1973. Bruce himself was at first hesitant at the idea, but producer Brendan O’Brien (Who also produced his two previous albums with the E Street Band in ‘The Rising’ and ‘Magic’), pushed him to pursue a new album. There was enough material left over from the ‘Magic’ sessions to begin crafting another album. Bruce agreed and the E Street Band was called in as reinforcement. Bruce then made a statement on his website, which stated, “Towards the end of recording ‘Magic’, excited by the return to pop production sounds, I continued writing. When my friend producer Brendan O’Brien heard the new songs, he said, ‘Let’s keep going.’ Over the course of the next year, that’s just what we did, recording with the E Street Band during the breaks on last year’s tour. I hope ‘Working on a Dream’ has caught the energy of the band fresh off the road from some of the most exciting shows we’ve ever done. All the songs were written quickly, we usually used one of our first few takes, and we all had a blast making this one from beginning to end.” Bruce and his band stand at a crossroads staring down every path invigorated with a new sense of hope, arriving just in time for the changing of the guard in America with new President of the United States Barack Obama now in office. No doubt the album’s sparks and kinetic energy were kick started, and arose from the formula of an election in which the United States has more invested in and more at stake in than ever, its future. Springsteen being the blinding truth-seeker he is, saw the weight of importance, going to bat for Obama on the campaign trail at several political rallies. The roots for the push to rapid release the new record really took shape and gained momentum when Springsteen stated, “I don’t know about you, but I want my country back. I want my dream back. I want my America back.” After Obama secured the presidency of the United States, it appeared as if a dream had been realized in some form. This was Bruce’s cue to finish cranking out an album that would read like a tributary of the times. Bruce goes mining through his past sounds and has struck gold once again.

‘Working On A Dream’ continues in the same vein as ‘Magic’ as Springsteen continues to follow his pop sensibilities in both songwriting and song-craft. The album opens with the epic gunslinger ballad ‘Outlaw Pete’. At eight minutes long it’s one of the longest songs Springsteen’s ever written and it ranks right up with his best monumentally lengthy tunes. With a rush of cellos bursting through the scenery its clear that Springsteen has returned to his love of layered orchestrations that really went missing after ‘Born To Run’. Another thing apparent is Springsteen has returned to the arena of his Roy Orbison influenced singing where he carries his voice several octaves higher, mixing it in with the gruff drawl that has found its way into so many of his records as well. This is most apparent where the chilling breakdown happens near the end when Springsteen sounds like he’s at the bottom of a wild west canyon as his vocals boom echoing, “Outlaw Pete, Outlaw Pete, can you hear me?” The organ gives the moment a particularly ethereal feel. A moment that suspends you in time, as the rest of the band re-enters the fray galloping to a frenzied crescendo. From there, Bruce and the E Street Band let the hatches fly off with the surging optimism with ‘My Lucky Day’. Some of Bruce’s songs are so great musically you can get the scenery without even hearing the lyrics and this is the case here. There is the sunrise of hope as Roy Bittan’s vibrant bouncing piano gives way to Bruce who’s singing for miles and miles. It’s classic ‘glory days’ E Street sound. The song is massive with rich harmonies from Bruce and Steven Van Zandt and just when you need it, as if on cue, Clarence Clemons taps the nerve with a burst of his signature saxophone howl. The title track follows with lush layers of  guitar that cool from the burst of ‘Lucky Day’ to a confident stroll down main street. Springsteen rolls up his sleeves and presents a reaffirmation of the positive outlook flooding the album, with Bruce even letting his guard down to break into a whistle solo. Eat your heart out Axl! The song suggests that a “dream” realized is definitely possible, but you need to work on it, and you need to help others work on it in sense of unity. He then returns to his classic operatic wail with the fantastic ‘Queen Of The Supermarket’. Bruce plays the roll like so many of his characters watching his love interest from a far in a voyeuristic yet romantic fashion, while he remains a ghost or an apparition to her for the most part. It’s a glorious tragedy of the unattainable where the smallest of things can bust all of the seams of complacency such as when he turns back for one moment to catch her smile and, “It blows this whole fuckin’ place apart.” It’s also here where the orchestrations add to the atmosphere and several others dressing up the album’s songs like mini-operas. This is prevalent on tracks like ‘This Life’ and ‘Kingdom Of Days’ as well. ‘This Life’ has signatures that mirror that of ‘Your Own Worst Enemy’ off ‘Magic’ with a classic sweeping majestic E Street encore finale bow flanked by a tremendous exit solo from Clarence. ‘What Love Can Do’ was actually the first song that was made for the record as Springsteen stated, “During the last weeks of mixing ‘Magic’, we recorded a song called “What Love Can Do.” It was sort of a “love in the time of Bush” meditation. It was a great track but felt more like a first song of a new record rather than something that would fit on ‘Magic’.” ‘Good Eye’ is a gritty blues rocker, which may be the most surprising on the album. It’s the first time on record Bruce has gone for a straight-ahead blues track with a standard 12-bar blues format. Along with its bluesy roots romp it has the rough weathered distortion vocals of Springsteen causing him to sound more like Buddy Guy than Orbison. Throw in some dirt road harmonica and the song sounds like it rose up out of the Mississippi deltas with the sheer archaic power of the blues journeymen that began laying the foundation of rock and roll over 80 years ago. Continuing his genre jumping, he hits with the country styling of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’. Not to be confused with the psychedelic safari of the Beatles’ ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, Bruce sounds like he made the subtle railroad traveling song for Bob Dylan’s ‘Nashville Skyline’. ‘Life Itself’ is perhaps the darkest track on the album with its ominous meditation speaking of the every day hardships of life. Once surrounded in riches and wealth, the character is torn down into situated rubble. He is dipping his feet into the black end of the waters that populated ‘The River’ as Springsteen contemplates with lines like, “Why do the things that connect us, slowly pull us apart?”. The original album closer is the most fragile with ‘The Last Carnival’. The track is used as a moving tribute to fallen comrade ‘Phantom’ Dan Federici, the prominent organist and original member of the E Street Band who had been playing with Bruce for nearly 40 years, died last April after losing his lengthy battle with melanoma. This created a fragility that rattled the band, as it always seemed like a bulletproof invincible force that could last forever as the band remained in tact for decades with relatively few tragedies in the family. But like they do better than any other act, they have pulled together and have risen above the tragedy of Federici, strong as ever. Unlike most of the rest of the album, the arrangement on the track is rather sparse. It’s a fitting coda to their fallen band member and friend as Bruce sings of the bright lights and fanfare of the carnival with the E Street Band having to move on down the road without him. Dan plays the role of Billy, whose journey is now at an end, and is left behind but his spirit and legacy remain in tact. It would seem to mirror the same Billy who was the main attraction of Springsteen classics like ‘Wild Billy’s Circus Story’ and ‘New York City Serenade’. The layered chorus ending serves as a hymnal escort for Federici’s legacy into the heavenly skies. The bonus track is well worth the wait entitled ‘The Wrestler’ taken from the Darren Aronofsky film by the same name. It seems like when directors ask Bruce to pen a great tune for their movies, he does so effortlessly. The poetry pours from Springsteen like the blood spilled by protagonist Mickey Rourke in the movie who is a pro wrestler past his prime, broken down by disintegrating family relationships, coupled with steroid and drug abuse trying to make a living. The track is beautiful with just Bruce on acoustic guitar accompanied by a solemn piano (also played by Springsteen himself) where he unveils some of his most heartbreaking lyrics like, “I always leave with less than I had before/ Then you’ve seen me/ Bet I can make you smile when the blood it hits floor./ Tell me friend can you ask for anything more?” The broke and beaten protagonist declares that his only faith left is, “In the broken bones and bruises I display.” The track is a truly devastating masterpiece of self-defeating fashion. Like so many of Springsteen’s lost protagonists in his musical canon, this one stands among his best. An elegant finale to Springsteen’s fantastic opus.

Several influences were involved in the DNA of the record. Whether it’s the election of a new president and optimism of America’s future, a personal satisfaction of a gratifying career with the most reliable backing band on the planet balanced with a fulfilling family life, or the continuing ability to outperform any other act live, Bruce’s mission statement is clear. Change is coming, or at least the hope of change is coming for America and its citizens. It can’t be taken for granted however, and it must be done in a unified effort. This record stands as a soundtrack, as reassurance that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Bruce and the E Street Band charge into the new year with bright rays of light that would probably seem contrived were they to come from a less accomplished and experienced group of musicians. Were it someone else, the passages may fall on deaf ears, but decades of credibility have made Bruce a worthy preacher. Once a kid himself that believed rock and roll could save lives and send a positive message, Bruce is now instilling that same hope in the youth generations later. He has been more involved with the future landscape of America than any of his peers. An upcoming performance at the Super Bowl followed by a blockbuster world tour supporting the album will certainly keep Bruce on the worldwide stage for awhile to come, and there will be more people listening to what he has to say now more than ever. With a perverse dedication to his craft, his fans, and his homeland it’s easy to see that Bruce has clearly grabbed the torch as the conscience of not only rock and roll, but popular American music in general. There are no signs of him slowing down, it seems he has a firm grip on that torch and won’t be giving it up anytime soon. As long has Bruce has that torch burning bright, we’re all better off for it.

1. Outlaw Pete*
2. My Lucky Day*
3. Working on a Dream*
4. Queen of the Supermarket*
5. What Love Can Do
6. This Life*
7. Good Eye*
8. Tomorrow Never Knows*
9. Life Itself
10. Kingdom of Days*
11. Surprise, Surprise
12. The Last Carnival*
13. The Wrestler*