Devils & Dust
Baffled by the mass devotion he continually conjurs up, I contend that Bruce Springsteen is better served when he strips things down, pulls up a stool, strums an acoustic, and bares his soul. With a set of narrative lyrics, that raspy voice, and negligible instrumentation — Springsteen, like Bob Dylan and Neil Young, is more than capable of setting a spooky, transcendent mood that’s both unsettling and exhilarating. To some ears (mine included), the effect is far more sublime than his rambunctious outings with the E-Street Band where every song, regardless of its subject matter, sounds like a sweltering celebration. Devils & Dust, the third in a trilogy of down-and-outers (think 1982’s Nebraska and 1995’s The Ghost of Tom Joad) actually finds Springsteen reasserting himself as an introspective and cavernous artist after last year’s political antics that, in some pockets of the country, alienated several of his staunchest supporters. This time, however, he comes clean and offers up a raw and profound portrait of the trials and tribulations assuaging every man, woman, and child in a quest to survive and thrive in an indifferent world. After dealing with the 9-11 tragedy on 2002's The Rising, Springsteen tears into the Iraq War on the title track of his new record. Written from the point of a view of a soldier, the song questions loyalty and trust in the midst of what many believe is a futile battle. And that's about as political as it gets.
What little accompaniment there is comes from a small cadre of players that includes producer Brendan O'Brien on bass, Steve Jordan on drums, and Soozie Tyrell on violin. The swing is loose on “All The Way Home” (previously recorded by Southside Johnny) and “Long Time Comin,’” yet completely understated on “Reno,” the story of man’s encounter with a lady of the night. Without dishing out any dirt, Springsteen holds nothing back during what may be one of his most evocative numbers. For most of the album, there’s a fine balance of subtly and exuberance, all tempered with an irresistible country flavor adorning the singer’s sparse arrangements. The solemn build behind of “Leah” distills the mastery of Springsteen’s songwriting skills at its most poignant. That is until he takes another trip down south and unfurls the touching romanticism of “Matamoras Banks.” At this point, it becomes crystal clear that this man they call the Boss is also a meticulous storyteller with a penchant for finding intangible beauty in the unresolved. But wait -- there's more. On the flip side of the dual disc is a DVD with a 5.1 mix of the album, as well as a 30-minute film with interviews and performance footage of “Devils & Dust,” “Long Time Comin',” “Reno,” “All I'm Thinkin' About,” and “Matamoras Banks” in the lonely confines of New Jersey. Altogether, the Devils & Dust CD/DVD Dual Disc from Bruce Springsteen is well worth the price of admission and then some.
~ Shawn Perry