Born To Run 45 by Bruce Springsteen

May 7, 2012

Bruce Springsteen is now a rock ‘n’ roll legend whose career has passed the 35 year mark. He is famous for his live performances and album releases, which have sold in the tens-of-millions, but every once in a while he would issue a hit single along the way.”Born To Run” was issued during the late summer of 1975 and reached number 23 on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart.

It remains on of his signature songs. As good as the lyrics are, it is the music that drives the song. It is intense and can almost be considered a modernization of Phil Spector’s Wall Of Sound.

It remains one of the great rock ‘n’ roll performances of all time.

The 25th Anniversary Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Concerts by Various Artists

October 14, 2010

Get ready for this: The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame just dropped a big one in the form of a close to six-hour, three-CD box set chronicling their 25th anniversary concerts at Madison Square Garden on October 29 and 30, 2009. Originally aired as an HBO Special, these shows now return in an extended version with unreleased tracks and extended performances.

The concerts began to take shape when Bruce Spingsteen and U2 agreed to headline the events. Mick Jagger quickly climbed on board, and it mushroomed from that point until it included a virtual Hall Of Fame live onstage.

It’s the format that made the evenings so special. Each headliner served as a house band and backed a number of guests. It allowed for quick transitions and combinations that may never be seen and heard again. The only possible complaint was the lack of younger artists, as the older or post-‘50s and in many cases ‘60s crowd dominated the evening. Still, time does pass and it was nice to see and hear this generation of rock stars.

Each night started with Jerry Lee Lewis at his piano. He is represented here by his classic “Great Balls Of Fire,” complete with knocking over his piano bench.

The first house band was Crosby, Stills & Nash, who rock through a rendition of “Woodstock” before David Crosby shows what a beautiful voice he still has on his own “Almost Cut My Hair.” They provide backing for Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne before James Taylor joins them for Stephen Stills signature song, “Love The One You’re With.”

Stevie Wonder is the next headliner and he runs through “For Once In My Life” before backing Smokey Robinson for “Tracks Of My Tears.” B.B. King, Sting, and Jeff Beck follow in quick succession. Wonder breaks down about halfway through an emotional cover of Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.”

Paul Simon is the third headliner. “Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard” flows into “You Can Call Me Al.” David Crosby and Graham Nash join him for some harmonizing on “Here Comes The Sun” before he reaches back into to rock ‘n’ roll history with the original Wanderer Dion, and Little Anthony and The Imperials. Art Garfunkel joins Simon for “Sounds Of Silence,” “The Boxer,” and a soaring “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

Aretha Franklin brings the first night to a close ending with a scintillating duet with Annie Lennox on “Chain Of Fools.”

The second night rocks from beginning to end. Metallica opens with “For Whom The Bell Tolls” and in succession backs Lou Reed on “Sweet Jane,” Ozzy Osbourne on “Iron Man/Paranoid,” and finally Ray Davies with “All Day And All Of The Night.”

U2 was next, and after presenting “Vertigo” and “Magnificent,” they blister through “Because The Night” with Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith. The combination of U2, Mick Jagger, and Fergie on “Gimme Shelter” was sheer brilliance.

Jeff Beck is next, and when he picks up his guitar, he demands your attention. His warm-up is with Sting on “People Get Ready.” Things heat up with Buddy Guy and especially Billy Gibbons on “Foxy Lady.

Bruce Springsteen and The E Sreet Band are the final act of the night. Tom Morello joins in on a jolting edition of “The Ghost Of Tom Joad” before John Fogerty runs through “Fortunate Son” and an ode to one of their heroes, Roy Orbison, with a cover of “Oh Pretty Woman.” Billy Joel and even Darlene Love of Phil Spector’s Wall Of Sound combine with Springsteen as they rock into the night. All the artists unite on stage for a tribute to Jackie Wilson with “Higher and Higher.”

My feeling is that the songs on the bonus disc could have been integrated into the regular sets as they seem lost here. Four songs by Stevie Wonder would have fleshed out his performance. Why “London Calling” by Morello and Springsteen is regulated to this disc is beyond me. The same for Metallica’s cover of Bob Seger’s “Turn The Page” and Simon & Garfunkel’s medley of “Mrs. Robinson/Not Fade Away.”

The 25th Anniversary Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Concerts present music that shall not pass this way again. It was a historic concert by a roster of artists that will become an essential listening experience.

Working On A Dream (Vinyl Edition) by Bruce Springsteen

May 12, 2009

I had been looking forward to the new Bruce Springsteen album for quite awhile and so when the day finally arrived I trekked down to my local Best Buy Store to purchase a copy. Not finding the album in the usual section a kindly salesperson directed me to a special display area that housed the newest releases. A banner announced Working On A Dream both in the regular edition for $9.99 and a deluxe edition for $14.99. What to do? But wait; at the end of the display was one vinyl copy in all its sealed, pristine glory for $19.99. Better yet it contained 180 gram vinyl plus the cover announced that with the purchase you would be able to download the album. I left the store twenty dollars plus tax poorer but the proud possessor of Bruce Springsteen’s newest music as it was meant to be heard.

Columbia has done an excellent job with this vinyl release. They did not crowd the songs but wisely went with a two record set. The tracks are the same as the CD release except for the inclusion of “A Night With The Jersey Devil” as a second bonus track which had been previously available as a free download from Springsteen’s web site. The sound is pristine and clear and shows just how effective a record can be with the proper vinyl and sound system. I find that the sound of these heavy vinyl releases are at least equal to their CD counterparts.

As I have watched my investments and pension plan go down, down, down, I needed some positive Bruce and in general that is what I received with this release. It may not be as cohesive as some of his past efforts but it is a lot more fun than many of them.

From the opening notes and words of his eight-minute western opus, “Outlaw Pete,” you know that The Boss is back. The story is novel like complete with tempo changes and an almost sonic quality in places. “My Lucky Day” rocks and is an upbeat anthem type track that he is so good at producing. “Working On A Dream” continues the run of superior songs and finds Springsteen in a hopeful mood. Three very good songs and I was only three tracks into the listening experience.

My favorite song, at least lyrically, may be “Kingdom Of Days.” Very few artists have the ability to put feeling and thoughts into words as does Springsteen. This reflective ballad of time and love continues the good feel of many of the tracks. “I watch the sun as it rises and sets/ I watch the moon trace its arc with no regrets,” is a calm acceptance of the passing of time as Bruce Springsteen nears sixty.

The only lyrics that come close are from the bonus track, “The Wrestler” which was written for the movie of the same name. It recently won the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song. That it was not nominated for an Academy Award is astounding. This gentle presentation belies the lyrics that were written for a broken-down professional wrestler. “Have you ever seen a scarecrow filled with nothing but dust and wheat/ If you’ve ever seen that scarecrow, you’ve seen me.”

Other delights awaited as I listened to the album for the first time. The blues leaning of “Good Eye,” the smooth “Tomorrow Never Knows,” and the poignant farewell to long-time bandmate Danny Federici on “The Last Carnival” are all worthy additions to the Springsteen catalogue.

Working On A Dream certainly lived up to my expectations and finding it on vinyl was a bonus. Records do provide a different type of listening experience. Not only do you have to turn the discs over which highlights the songs in a way that are not found in the CD format but records do not travel. A record player is stationary and so is the listening experience. Having made my latest pitch for vinyl, it is the music of Working On A Dream that is important and ultimately will sell this album. In that regard it is a definite buy and I have to believe that despite it being only January, it will remain one of the better releases of 2009.

Magic by Bruce Springsteen

May 12, 2009

Bruce Springsteen returned in 2007 to release the album Magic. A vinyl copy was released on September 25 in order to qualify it for the Grammy Awards. It would be nominated but lose. The CD version was issued October 2nd.

Magic breaks no new ground but it is a release that I find enjoyable. Maybe I’ve gotten used to his dark lyrics and even his politics which I guess is fine. It just rolls along and I am willing to go along for the musical ride. Springsteen draws on some of his past work to create a wistful and in some ways a nostalgic work.

The main problem that I have with the album is its production. The sound is muddy and the guitar tracks are not strong enough. There really is no excuse for a major artist or music company to issue something this bad given the level of modern technology. It really comes down to poor production interfering with good music.

The songs are more diverse than many of Springsteen’s previous albums. “Radio Nowhere” is a great rock song and would have fit nicely on Born In The USA. “You’ll Be Comin’ Down” is basically a slick pop song with the highlight being the beautiful sax work of Clarence Clemons. “Livin’ In The Future” has a rhythm & blues feel and is a total band effort. “Girls In Their Summer Clothes” even has a Beach Boys feel to it and could have been a top forty hit.

The back to back songs, “Magic” and “Last To Die” find Springsteen in political mode. The first is a criticism of a nation that has been fooled by the establishment, and the second is a scathing anti-war song. I have not tired of such songs as “I’ll Work For Your Love,” “Long Walk Home” and “Devil’s Arcade.” The music and the lyrics have depth and texture and can be explored over a period of time.

Magic proved that at age 58 Bruce Springsteen would not be going quietly into the night. He produced an enjoyable and relaxed album but still showed some lyrical fire. There was some still some life left in the old guy.

We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions by Bruce Springsteen

May 12, 2009

If there is one thing Bruce Springsteen has done during his career — besides producing brilliant albums — it has been providing a number of unexpected twists and turns of his musical vision. He has created memorable anthems, top-forty hits, and stark albums of painful songs and flawed characters. We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions found him interpreting traditional folk songs based on the enduring legacy of Pete Seeger.

Seeger, now 89, began his career in the late ’30s — at one point performing for President Franklin Roosevelt — eventually garnering fame as a member of the Weavers, who helped popularize traditional folk music in the early ’50s. They indeed formed an important link in the folk music chain by modernizing the genre’s songs and, in so doing, bringing them mass appeal. Seeger became a voice of social protest in the ’60s and ’70s with such works as “Where Have All The Flowers Gone,” “If I Had A Hammer,” and “We Shall Overcome” serving as messages to millions. Even today, he continues to perform and support chosen causes.

And so on We Shall Overcome, Springsteen set out to record songs that Seeger had popularized over the years, which, considering they number in the hundreds, posed a wide variety from which too choose. Ultimately, Springsteen wisely decided to cover very traditional songs — some of which I remember singing in grammar school — remaining true to the original intent of the compositions while still giving them a modern feel.

“Old Dan Tucker” is a square dance tune that predates the Civil War. “Jesse James” builds from a simple acoustic start to something that would have fit the old Hootenanny concept. “John Henry” has been recorded by hundreds of artists in the folk, country and bluegrass traditions. It may be a depressing song at heart, but Springsteen brings a rock temperament to it with a band in support.
“Erie Canal” and “Jacob’s Ladder” are both songs I remember singing as a child in the ’50s, “Erie Canal” telling about labor and a trusty mule while “Jacob’s Ladder” is a spiritual straight from the cotton fields of the South. “My Oklahoma Home” is from the dust bowl days and, while the song is one of loss and desperation, Springsteen evokes the music in a different tone.

“Eyes On The Prize” (which is perfect for a funeral procession) and “Pay Me My Money Down” both have a New Orleans spirit to them.

The album concludes with a simple childhood tune, “Froggie Went A Courtin’,” followed by the civil rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome.”

Bruce Springsteen has taken another road less traveled and produced an album of surprising quality, proving that with the right amount of passion and talent, good songs can always live up to their potential. Perhaps the best analysis of We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions is that it offers superior music interpreted by one great artist.

Devils & Dust by Bruce Springsteen

May 12, 2009

Bruce Springsteen returned in April of 2005 with Devils & Dust, which, in songs of turmoil and through his use of American imagery, recalled his creative past.

The work garnered five Grammy Awards, including one for Best Contemporary Folk Album as well as honors for Song Of The Year, Best Rock Song and Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance for the title track.

For me, though, Devils & Dust is yet another Springsteen album that rarely comes off my shelf. Perhaps it’s because this is not an album to be taken lightly as it requires a certain amount of effort, concentration, and thought from the listener. And while I find some songs to be strong, others tend to meander, which decreases the album’s overall focus, cohesiveness and sense of purpose.

An issue that arose upon its release concerned its dual disc format, with the flip (DVD) side of the disc containing acoustic tracks and commentary by Springsteen. Such an approach was all well and good in its intent, but the DVD wouldn’t play on a number of machines. In other words, beware of the original printing.

Springsteen returned to the use of character studies, which allowed him to once again offer commentaries on American life. It’s a sparse album sonically, yet there are some synthesizers, background vocals and even a sitar at times.

The title track is a personal statement by Springsteen, telling of how troops are fighting with God on their side and there are serious decisions to be made. “Silver Palomino” explores loss and hope through the death of a teenager’s mother. “Reno” is a story of an encounter with a prostitute wrapped around the theme of lost love. “The Hitter” uses a boxer’s narrative to present the cruelties of life and the need for a respite. “Matamoros Banks” is Springsteen at his storytelling best, recounting a tale of a dying immigrant.

“Maria’s Bed,” “All The Way Home” and “Long Time Comin’” make for more of a positive listening experience, especially when driving down the road.

Devils & Dust is just an odd fit for me within the context of Springsteen’s catalog as it feels like a hybrid of Nebraska and Human Touch. Still, it finds Springsteen, in his mid-fifties, exploring mature themes within his uniquely American musical framework. It’s a good place to visit now and then.

The Rising by Bruce Springsteen

May 12, 2009

A lot happened in the world in the seven years since the 1995 release of The Ghost Of Tom Joad. Bruce Springsteen was now in his early fifties. He had made a decision to record a full album with his old cohorts, The E Street Band, for the first time in years. The events that would have the most effect on his new album and would forever change American society were the tragedies of September 11, 2001. The Rising would be Springsteen’s response.

Bruce Springsteen has had the unique ability to present the American experience through words and music better and clearer than just about any artist. The Rising would find him far from the themes of girls, cars and character studies that dominated his previous albums. His introspective thoughts which led to the creation of most of the songs on this release would tap into the American psyche and soul, and would provide a poignant perspective on the events of 9/11.

It is the tracks that are related to 9/11 that form the heart of the album. “Into The Fire” is both a somber and uplifting tribute to the firemen and policemen who went into the two towers and sacrificed their lives. “Nothing Man” is from the point of view of a person who loses his life and is ultimately a commentary on mortality in general. “Empty Sky” is the eternal picture of the empty New York skyline. The title song is a transcendent anthem of heroism. What is all the more amazing is that the words are clocked in some of the best music that Springsteen has produced.

There are several other quality songs. The album’s first track, “Lonesome Day,” is a song that builds while supported by strings and percussion. At the other end of the album is “My City Of Ruins” which brings The Rising to almost a spiritual ending. In between is my personal favorite. “Mary’s Place” is a group effort that just rolls along as it celebrates life.

I have been moved by the starkness of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. and seen oil bubbling up from the Arizona in Pearl Harbor over 60 years after its sinking. I’m sure that someday there will be a fitting memorial in New York City that commemorates The Two Towers. It is to Bruce Springsteen’s credit that he was able to create his own personal tribute through his music. Six years after its release, The Rising remains thoughtful, poignant, and haunting as it explores a seminal event in American history.

Bruce Springsteen also proves that every once in a while rock ‘n’ roll can be more than just entertaining. It can be important as well.

Greatest Hits by Bruce Springsteen

May 12, 2009

A Greatest Hits album and the name Bruce Springsteen just don’t seem to match. While he has had a number of top charting single releases, he has never been considered an artist who produces hit songs in the normal sense of the term. He is an artist who creates diverse, memorable, and some of the most critically acclaimed albums in music history. Thus his Greatest Hits compilation released in February of 1995 felt a little suspicious.

Let me say that if you want to explore Bruce Springsteen’s music you need to start with his studio albums. Each is an individual adventure in and of itself, and the songs have a cohesiveness within that context. Pulling his songs from their parent albums of release casts them adrift and allows them to lose some of their impact.

It might be a little too easy to say that this album is only for new adherents who are not familiar with his catalog. While Greatest Hits may provide a nice taste of his material, it is not an introductory release. It is an album for his fans and should just be accepted as a fun 76 minutes of listening pleasure. Ignore any sense of vision and high art and just enjoy the performances. From the opening sounds of “Born To Run” and “Thunder Road” and including accessible songs such as “Hungry Heart,” “Dancing In The Dark,” and “Glory Days,” it is just a good listen to some great tunes.

The gem of the album at the time of its release was the haunting “Streets Of Philadelphia,” which had only been available on the movie’s soundtrack album and as a 7” single. One of his biggest worldwide hits, it won four Grammy Awards, including song of the year plus the Academy Award for best original song.

There are four bonus tracks added to the end of the release. They marked a return to recording with members of his E Street Band after a long hiatus. While they are commendable efforts, I would have preferred adding more of his well known tracks. My choices would have been “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” “I’m On Fire,” “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight),” and, well, take your pick.

Greatest Hits is a nice stop to visit some old friends. Don’t try to make it something that it was not intended to be. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy.

The Ghost Of Tom Joad by Bruce Springsteen

May 11, 2009

Given the state of the economy it seems appropriate to review The Ghost Of Tom Joad.

The character of Tom Joad entered the American consciousness in John Steinbeck’s 1939 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Grapes Of Wrath, set against the economic hardships of the Great Depression. This spawned a film version starring Henry Fonda, which in turn inspired folk singer Woody Guthrie to pen “The Ballad Of Tom Joad.” In late 1995, inspired by these sources, Bruce Springsteen presented his own modern day interpretation of the themes surrounding this character.

The Ghost Of Tom Joad is essentially a modern day folk album exploring the underbelly of society. The stories of the homeless, destitute, lost, and forgotten are told with themes of social repression and indifference confronting the listener with stark images and messages. While this album has been compared to Nebraska, I find that the characters here exhibit a resilience that those of Nebraska lack, suggesting a possibility of hope.

The lyrics are the most important component of this release. I have always found it interesting that despite the fact that Springsteen is a huge, wealthy star, he can plumb the depths of the American working class soul so well. This is definitely an album that needs to be listened to closely, something that is all too rare these days. The title track especially is really a visionary creation. It’s a real indication of Springsteen’s genius that he would think to use Steinbeck as a unifying theme in the creation of an album.

“Highway 29” is a moody, eerie tale of life gone terribly wrong. “The Line” may be the most emotional track on the album as it deals with the topics of poverty and desperation. “Youngstown” returns Springsteen to the factory with a tale of war veterans and depression. The darkest and most unforgiving song is “Balboa Park” dealing with drugs and the selling of one’s self.

The Ghost Of Tom Joad is a brilliant creation from the mind of Bruce Springsteen. It marked another in a long line of surprising turns in his recording career. His continued ability to resonate with the public while maintaining artistic integrity has been rare in rock history. This is an album that will pull you in and stay with you.

Human Touch and Lucky Town by Bruce Springsteen

May 11, 2009

Bruce Springsteen’s Human Touch and Lucky Town were both issued March 31, 1992.

The question on fans minds ever since has been whether the two separate albums — his first “rock” music made without the E Street Band, and instead with studio musicians — could have made one excellent album, rather than two merely good ones.

Human Touch is the weaker of the two releases. It is less focused and does not have the cohesive vision that is present on most Springsteen releases. It seems that he just decided to relax and write some simple songs and play some guitar riffs. There is nothing terrible here; it’s just not up to his normal standards. However, average Springsteen is still better than the best of many artists.

Songs such as “Gloria’s Eyes,” “All Or Nothin’ At All” and “The Long Goodbye” are all competent and feature some powerful guitar playing here and there. There is just less passion than usual which reduces the energy level. It may be that Springsteen had gotten a little too comfortable.

“I Wish I Was Blind” is a nice gentle song with beautiful lyrics. Having Bobby Hatfield of The Righteous Brothers sing the high harmonies was a stroke of genius. “With Every Wish” finds him back on firm lyrical ground as you really do need to watch what you wish for at times.

All in all, it is a pleasant and non-offensive album that is listenable. The problem is that when reaching for some Springsteen to play on the old stereo system there are a lot of better choices.

Lucky Town finds a Springsteen who seems to be at a happy place in his life. He is now married to Patti Scialfa and his home life is good. The lyrics form the brightest and most positive that he had issued up until this point in his career.

There is a lot to smile about here. “Leap Of Faith” is almost a spiritual love song. “Living Proof” is slow building with some nice guitar licks. He is now a family man and seems to finally have found some of the missing elements in his life. “If I Should Fall Behind” re-enforces this sense of a contented home life.

My favorite track is the album closer, “My Beautiful Reward.” Life is good but the search still goes on.

It was nice to hear this album again as it is one that I all too often ignore. Bruce Springsteen’s releases tend to be slices of his life, which serve as chapters in his continuing autobiography. Lucky Town finds him happy and content and as such is a nice stop on his journey and mine.