Bruce Springsteen’s Letter To You

My expectations for new albums by long term music heroes have been lowered in this century so when I put the new Bruce Springsteen album on my laptop and put on the headphones while I was working on something else, I wasn’t surprised to feel underwhelmed. But I was still disappointed. But then on my way out to run some errands, I grabbed the CD and loaded in my car audio system…and played it and…it’s a fuckin’ Bruce Springsteen album…and so it needs to be played at volume and at speed!

In my letter to you
I took all my fears and doubts
In my letter to you
All the hard things I found out
In my letter to you
All that I’ve found true
And I sent it in my letter to you*

This is certainly an album of its time…but then again…it is an album for all time. Songs here could be from Darkness on the Edge of Town, The River, Born In the USA, The Rising, The Magic, or others from mid-career Springsteen. If you wanted to compile a best of Springsteen, with all new songs, this is the album that you would assemble.

The other thing that holds this album together…is what I mentioned…is the certainty that this is of the current time. Eternal Springsteen themes are here but with a bit more nostalgia and reflection than past albums. To me, it reads as the sense of loss and isolation inflicted on an active individual by an uncontrolled pandemic mixed with the thoughtfulness of a poet of a certain age. Being his contemporary, that pulls me in completely.

Springsteen brings us in and gets us up to date with the opening number, the ballad One Minute You’re Here, a track that is in the running for my favorite track here. Although clearly a Springsteen ballad through and through, it feels just a bit different…maybe just a bit withdrawn for even his ballads. My wife, who has heard plenty of Springsteen over the years, didn’t recognize this as his at first, but “Baby, baby, baby, I am so alone*”. Yes…yes…we are.

And then? And THEN: bam, bam, pow, Max Weinberg’s drums, the wall of electric guitars, the buzz of a Fender Telecaster, the Bob Dylan influenced harmonicas, the Jake Clemons sax, and then Roy Bittan’s piano…I’d know that piano anywhere…how does he get that sound…I mean, hell, it’s only a piano! Yes, it’s a fuckin’ Bruce Springsteen album!

And here we jump into the first Springsteen anthem on the album (see lyrics above), Letter to You. And what a great song for a summer of driving but watch where your gas pedal is and the numbers on the speedometer…this can lead to enthusiastic driving without any warning. This too is a contender for best tune.

And then we get to turn the temperature up a bit more…and watch that pedal again…as we roll into Burnin’ Train! I am not sure whether this is a paean to love won or love lost but it is burnin’ and at the moment it is my favorite. And I promise that I won’t change my mind again before I finish this.

These three songs are already worth the price of admission and I won’t roll through every song on this album but let me pull out a few other things that I felt when I listened through this again today in my studio at volume with my headphones.

A number of these songs seem to call forth the joys and tribulations of Springsteen’s early musical experiences. And although he reached the summit of rock stardom, some of this stuff rings true even to some of us who never got past playing CYO dances and benefits for the exposure.

First tune in the genre would be Last Man Standing. A celebration of the style of that decades ago past and memories of lost clubs and music halls and those other guys you played with.

Ghosts: similar vein but here I feel even more of the camaraderie of being in a band and probably one of the most quintessential Springsteen anthems on the album. This cut has a bit of a surprise…unless I am hearing things. Toward the end, through the “I shoulder your Les Paul” verse, there’s just a bit of keyboard riff very reminiscent of a certain Manfred Mann Earth Band cover of a Bruce song from way back in the day!

And the perfect closer…I”ll See You In My Dreams.

I’ll see you in my dreams
When all our summers have come to an end
I’ll see you in my dreams
We’ll meet and live and laugh again
I’ll see you in my dreams
Yeah, up around the river bend
For death is not the end*

By the end of the set we leave no one alive*

*all lyrics quoted are copyright 2019, 2020 by Bruce Springsteen (GMR)

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