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Street Sounds: The Boss keeps running
New Jersey rocker Bruce Springsteen’s 18th album, High Hopes, is built from cover songs from live shows, and reworked and unused tracks from earlier albums and sessions.
The centerpiece songs are the redone older tracks, inspired by concert renditions. It’s a bold and useful way to use stray material that’s around, to reinterpret it and re-record some of it.
As for songs left over on the cutting floor, everybody’s got some and the trick is how to use them. Sometimes it’s about finding context as The Beatles, Stones or Led Zeppelin would know.
Tom Morello’s (Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave) role as Springsteen’s new guitar-slinging sidekick has kicked The Boss’ always smoldering spirit into some experimental sonics on High Hopes. Springsteen and Morello both have a passion for the protest song, and although they’ve approached the form from divergent sources, they arrive at the same place as naturally as long-time partners would.
American Skin (41 shots) is a steady rolling lament, elevated by Springsteen’s heartland eulogy and Morello’s wailing guitar.
The Springsteen of old appears on a couple of Jersey shore-style songs: High Hopes and Just Like Fire Would. Both songs are cover songs with a backstreet E Street Band treatment. Things then turn down a dark alley on Down in the Hole, a sombre track that features two of Springsteen’s late E Street bandmates, Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons.
Speaking of the departed, The Ghost of Tom Joad resurrects the folk protest style of Pete Seeger and Woodie Guthrie and cranks it into overdrive. The song acts as a vocal duet between Springsteen and Morello.
The duo taps into righteous dismay and channels it into a dark up-against-the-wall anthem. This song, Heaven’s Wall and American Skin (41 shots) are the tracks that bring the album together. It’s an edgy ride that’s a departure from Springsteen’s usual thematic structures but its unpredictability yields surprises that give the whole thing an unexpected depth.
High Hopes is creative and poetic with a wide, unbridled scope. Springsteen opts out on downtime.
– Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon-based musician who reviews new music releases for The Morning Star.