Count me as one who really likes Bruce Springsteen's newest record "Western Stars." I have heard some folks be critical of it after just one or two listenings. I think it takes more than two times through a record to absorb it and form an opinion. This one gets better every time I play it. I know my opinions almost always change after repeated listenings to a recording.
I also believe that Springsteen is one of a handful or two of musicians who are beyond reproach. Folks like Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Neil Young and others. These folks have earned the right to put out what they want to musically without criticism from amateurs like me. They only have to live up to their own expectations. Not mine or yours.
Back to the record. I wish that it was released in late May before we drove across all of Utah, Nevada and California on U.S. Highway 50 last month on our vacation. It would have been a nice companion as "Western Stars" reminds me of those wide open spaces and vast expanse of the American West that we drove through. Towns and places that haven't really changed much in several decades. It also brings me back to the 1970s when AM radio still dominated the airways and played all genres of music.
There are many different aspects that contribute to this incredible recording. "Western Stars" is delivered in a relaxed laid-back, trippy at times, fashion, with a soft touch. Many of the songs are ballads. Several are orchestrated, creating a feeling that is cinematic in scope. Springsteen said that he used some of the songs that Jimmy Webb wrote for Glen Campbell in the 1970s as inspiration for this recording. It definitely shows.
"Western Stars" 2 LP set opens with "Hitch Hikin.'" "Thumb stuck out as I go / I'm just traveling up the road/Maps don't do much for me friend/I follow the weather and the wind/I'm hitch hikin' all day long/Got what I carry and my song." Told from the point of view of a young man experiencing a part of this country he has never seen before with wide-eyed amazement. It took me back to how I felt when I spent the summer of 1973 in northeastern New Jersey. Far away from friends and family.
"The Wayfarer," a self-explanatory song, conjures up memories of Jimmy Webb's "Highwayman" and "Wichita Lineman." With its "lonely" theme and rich "wall of sound" orchestration.
"Western Stars" is a humorous reflective tale of an old character actor who was shot by John Wayne in one of the Duke's last movies. He used that story to freely drink his way through most of his life. It opens and closes with the same line "I wake up in the morning / Glad my boots are on." And "A coyote with someone's Chihuahua it is teeth / Skitters across my veranda in the night."
"Sleepy Joe's Café" is an obvious homage to the great early rock and roll band the Coasters as well as the songwriting team of Jerome Leiber and Michael Stoller. Springsteen pulls it off perfectly.
"Drive Fast (the Stuntman)" seems to me to be a tribute to the great Hal Needham, considered by many to be the greatest stuntman of his time.
That is only six of the 13 tracks that make up this great recording. My personal choice for this summer's must hear record!
Rock Cesario owns Triple Play Records, 530 Main St., and hosts "Acoustic Sunday" from 9 a.m. to noon on KSTR 96.1 FM. Email him at email@example.com.