The Boss menagerie
The title track of the new Bruce Springsteen album is his second recorded shot (this time with Tom Morello, once of Rage Against the Machine, as his temporary lead guitarist) at a version of a certain sort of updated work song by a now-defunct, post-rockabilly, looking-for-the-lost-spirit-of-America band called the Havalinas. This is a chunk of studio material from the last decade that was never released (including a posthumous appearance by saxophonist Clarence Clemons on “Harry’s Place”), with some added parts; songs that were already recorded but are here revived and retouched; and covers of other songwriters’ work. But a large portion of the record feels, let’s say, official.
It’s not scattershot. It has sufficient unity of instrumentation and postproduction mastering. It’s an album of nearly symphonic roots-rock and selected extras – accordion, uilleann pipes, gospel choruses – to get close to other forms and visions, and then some temporary downshifts into sparer and less narrative modes.
The record ends with “Dream Baby Dream,” which Springsteen used to close his 2005 solo tour, playing harmonium and singing with a jarring echo. Those versions, which you can easily enough hear online, really make their point: Springsteen goes somewhere with the song, through repetition, intensity, even small failures of pitch. The official version here, with strummed guitar, orchestra and a soft rhythm track suitable for yoga, expands it, defangs it and fuzzes up its purpose. Oh, well.
Ben Ratliff, New York Times