Well you can never suggest that Bruce Springsteen is lazy. Following a consistently sold out run on Broadway of his memoir show and with increasing talk of a new E Street Band tour in the next few years, you could be forgiven for thinking that perhaps he had earned the right to have a little bit of a break. In fact as far as most fans were concerned 2019 was set to be a quiet year for The Boss. It seemed that there was going to be little releases other than perhaps some more additions to the online live bits that have been surfacing recently. His right hand man Little Steve Van Zandt has been touring his newly reinvigorated Soul Review show (well worth a watch if you get a chance) and all seeming fairly quiet in Bruce land… Until that is until a month or so ago where a new Bruce solo record was announced with a teaser that suggested a slower more string based Bruce was on the horizon and subsequently we now have ‘Western Stars‘.
Solo Bruce albums have thrown up some absolute gems over time with albums like ‘Nebraska‘, ‘Ghost Of Thom Joad‘ and ‘Devils And Dust‘ having a really different impact to the arena filling Rock star that Springsteen is best known for. ‘Western Stars‘ as an album nicely follows that trajectory.
The album opens with an acoustic guitar on the song ‘Hitch Hikin‘ and for the first two verses, there is a sense that it could be following suit of a typical acoustic troubadour type album which typifies his best solo work. However by the third verse, the strings have kicked in and the tone of the album is well and truly set. As a whole the album is all really strong. The Country-String-Ballad sense is one that prevails through out the whole album and in fact the only time the album takes a slightly more upbeat turn, ‘Sleepy Joes Café’, it ends up feeling totally out of sorts with the remainder of the album and actually ends up ruining the following song as the balance is attempted to be restored. Despite the wrong step of this song there are some really strong songs on this album with ‘The Wayfarer‘, ‘Western Stars‘ and ‘Somewhere North of Nashville‘ being this reviewers particularly favourite. The album also has a really strong finish with ‘Moonlight Motel‘ ending with what is now quite a familiar flourish of melancholy over strings. It is a really strong head to a positive album.
There is a really different feel to this album than previous and dare I say its an album that can only be written by a man in a certain time of life. The sound itself takes lead from country singers such as Glen Campbell, Jimmy Webb and Roy Orbison. There is a sense lyrically in the album of escapism and wanting to get away. The whole album emotes a certain time of life and I don’t think it’s one that can be released randomly after a big stadium affair of which Springsteen is obviously most famous. As much as the stories would suggest that he has been making this album over several years it is not a surprise to see it released after the autobiographical journey of the Broadway shows. As a whole it’s a really strong album and evokes travel, the great west and dare I say peace. I get the impression that the difference in musical styling will not appeal to all E Street fans however I strongly suspect that this album will stand the test of time in his discography and eventually will be held in similar regard to ‘Nebraska‘.