Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars

Bruce Springsteen has been a busy artist these past few years, though his discography doesn’t quite bear that out. He’s written an autobiography, had a one man show on Broadway, and released a Netflix special and accompanying album documenting that Broadway show. In fact, his last album wasn’t even an album at all in the traditional sense. 2014’s High Hopes was a collection of strays, covers, and re-recordings with the E Street Band along with Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Prophets of Rage on a little more than half the album. Real album or not, I loved it. Western Stars is a 180-degree turn. In fact, you’ve probably never heard Bruce sound like this before.

Bruce has described this album as a Glen Campbell kind of record, and while that may be true, it brought other artists to mind for me.  This is Bruce Springsteen in full crooner mode, offering up some of the finest singing in his entire career. It calls to mind someone Bruce worked with in the past – the late, great Roy Orbison. Lyrically, he is telling some of the finest stories of his career as well, with a western USA slant. From that angle, this album made me think of classic Johnny Cash. Heavy company, indeed – but Bruce stands tall amongst them.

There’s not a bad song on the entire record, though there’s two that don’t quit fit the mold of the album for me. That mold would be the wistful, wide eyed storyteller of the West, with just a hint of sadness. I’ll give you a few of the highlights and urge you to stream, buy, or somehow listen to this album. Western Stars is the title track and is told from the perspective of an actor who has crossed paths with fame in his life. The orchestration is cinematic, lending a sense of flair to the proceedings. And lyrically, we are in prime Bruce territory. “Once I was shot by John Wayne / Yeah, it was towards the end / That one scene’s brought me a thousand drinks / Set me up and I’ll tell it for you, friend” Chasin’ Wild Horses was like a gut punch with the opening lines – describing me as a kid. “Guess it was somethin’ I shouldn’t have done / Guess I regret it now / Ever since I was a kid / Tryin’ to keep my temp down is like / Chasin’ wild horses”. A country twang, swelling orchestration, understated vocals. Perfection. Sundown somewhat recalls 80’s Bruce, but as filtered through a sad country crooner at the top of his game. There really isn’t much to compare this to in Bruce’s catalogue – it is a masterful ode to sadness. “I guess what goes around, baby, comes around / Just wishing you were here with me, in Sundown”. There Goes My Miracle takes the shifting beat of Bruce’s Streets of Philadelphia as a launching point and turns it into something completely unique, with a sense of longing that is truly affecting. Beautiful singing on display here, sounding like something a Dad would sing to his daughter on her wedding day. “There goes my miracle / walking away, walking away”. Stunning.

The album has been out for a few weeks and is available everywhere. It’s certainly a different record for Bruce, but it is one that bears many rewards for listeners.

Verdict: Modern Classic

For Fans of: Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, John Mellencamp, Glen Campbell

Tracks:

  1. Hitch Hikin’
  2. The Wayfarer
  3. Tucson Train
  4. Western Stars
  5. Sleep Joe’s Cafe
  6. Drive Fast (The Stuntman)
  7. Chasin’ Wild Horses
  8. Sundown
  9. Somewhere North of Nashville
  10. Stones
  11. There Goes My Miracle
  12. Hello Sunshine
  13. Moonlight Motel

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