Is Springsteen or Callahan the better Western balladeer? 

click to enlarge playlist.jpg

Bruce Springsteen proved in his 1982 acoustic album Nebraska that he could drop his Jersey roots, but his new solo studio effort Western Stars (Columbia) left reason for suspicion, infused with strings and cowboy attitude. To be fair, the orchestration is subtle and serves to feed strong riffs, while the storytelling has the direct punch of Springsteen’s best work, notably in “Tucson Train” and the title track. Still, an otherwise fine album can be hobbled through reliance on lyrical clichés, and there are times when the arrangements resemble an ancient Marlboro commercial.

Bill Callahan serves as partial counterweight. His first new studio release in six years, Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest (Drag City), can’t claim more Western legitimacy, as Callahan has been a mid-Atlantic states bard under his own name and his nom de guerre, Smog. Yet the understated ballads in this 20-track, hour-long album more ideally fit a high-desert state of mind. There are songs with surprising observations on love and death, like “What Comes After Certainty,” and even a track, “Writing,” that provides a meta-observation of the songwriter’s craft without sounding maudlin.


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

All content © Copyright 2019, The Colorado Springs Independent

Website powered by Foundation