Rumors of a Bruce Springsteen/E Street Band reunion have circulated for five years, but The Boss played bait-and-switch with a new solo album, Western Stars, and a Springsteen on Broadway soundtrack. Now, the great reunion arrives in the stunning Letter to You (Columbia), underscoring Springsteen’s relevance nearly 50 years after his debut. The album begins with an acoustic number recalling the Nebraska album, but is succeeded by 11 tracks suggesting a mix of Born in the USA and Lucky Town.
These are tough, beautiful songs of resignation and reckoning as the bard approaches old age. The power of “Burnin’ Train” or “House of a Thousand Guitars” is self-evident, though it obviously wasn’t easy to try to summarize a career in a single culminating album. Springsteen’s working-class heroes are finding the 21st century a challenge, but you can tell he still believes in that Romeo-and-Juliet romanticism that makes every life a study in redemption. Some critics found that attitude corny in his early songs. But now that he’s 71, the romance is burned into his DNA — and that’s a good thing for these times.
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Deep Sea Diver, Impossible Weight (High-Beam/ATO) – Jessica Dobson, tour guitarist for The Shins and Beck, released two albums with the Deep Sea Diver ensemble that didn’t get much notice. For her third outing, she recruited engineer/producer Andy Park and Sharon Van Etten to assist on the title track. Dobson’s trademark is multiple layers of guitar riffs and counter-riffs, but ballads like “Shattering the Hourglass” show her vocal talents are significant as well. Here’s hoping the world starts paying attention.
The Mountain Goats, Getting Into Knives (Merge) – Thanks to a quarantine acoustic release from founder John Darnielle, 2020 got two Mountain Goats albums, though this is the first full-band offering. This 19th studio album is the richest and most varied in a decade, though some fans find the addition of organ unnerving. Maybe the real complaint is that tracks like “Get Famous” sound a bit Hollywood with keyboards and horns, but Darnielle fans know that even when he delivers apparently happy and orchestrated pop, the tongue is held firmly in cheek.