Recently turning 71 years old on September 23rd, American Rock icon Bruce Springsteen shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, a little over a year after putting out the beautiful Roots Rock album Western Stars in 2019, he now returns on Friday, October 23, 2020, with Letter to You via Columbia Records.
A milestone twentieth studio album from The Boss, Letter to You was recorded in the fall of 2019 at Thrill Hill Recording, in Colts Neck, New Jersey, and offers a sound a bit different than Western Stars. Where Western Stars was more Folk Rock – laden with acoustic guitar, piano, and some subdued cinematic orchestration – Letter to You is more of a full on Rock-n-Roll record. Providing an uplifting vibe of hope in a difficult time, the colorful textures are thanks to the backing of the E Street Band. The first time Springsteen has recorded with his long-time band since 2014’s High Hopes, and performed with them since 2016’s The River 2016 tour, there is a lot fans can appreciate about Letter to You.
First and foremost, if you are a fan of Springsteen you are well aware that he is an artist who is very socially aware; he has always spoken his truth and expressed thoughts on American culture, life, and the plight of everyday people. A factor that could divide audiences with different political views, fortunately Springsteen has a magical way of putting these ideas into stories that can appeal to anyone with a heart and soul.
These thoughts in mind, Letter to You is a classic album complete with 12 new songs produced by Ron Aniello with Bruce Springsteen, mixed by Bob Clearmountain, and mastered by Bob Ludwig. As far as the E Street Band, legendary names including Roy Bittan (piano, vocals), Nils Lofgren (guitar, vocals), Patti Scialfa (vocals), Garry Tallent (bass guitar, vocals), Steven Van Zandt (guitar, vocals), and Max Weinberg (drums) are joined by newer additions Jake Clemons (saxophone) along with Charles Giordano (organ, vocals). It’s important to mention each of these contributing members by name, as together they create a full, vital sound that really brings each song to life.
A sensation that is felt pretty much from the start, before the mood really kicks in Springsteen really tugs on your heart with the somber opening of “One Minute You’re Here.” A song which cannot help but force you to think about how fragile life can be, rather than keep you dwelling in your own sorrow, the tempo kicks right back up with the anthemic title-track. From here it is a full-blown orchestration of instrumentation that is tightly knit with a sound that only can be produced by a band together as long as this one. You have the emotional “Burnin’ Train,” bluesy “Janey Needs A Shooter,” the self-reflective “Last Man Standing,” but also the highly spiritual moments heard on “The Power Of Prayer” and “If I Was The Priest.” All extremely well-composed tracks, the rest of the album continues along this trajectory with songs like “Ghost,” “Song For Orphans,” and closer “I’ll See You In My Dreams.”
Then there is the more down tempo “Rainmaker,” which fits nicely toward the end of the album, but also the undeniable highlight of it all, “House Of A Thousand Guitars.” Taking a moment to discuss the aforementioned highlight, “House Of A Thousand Guitars” is placed right smack in the middle of the album. Exceptionally powerful, it could easily be one of the most appealing and accessible Springsteen songs in years.
Overall, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band have once again put together an album for the ages. There unity is real and evident in the recording. Highlighted by Springsteen’s voice that is as sincere as ever, and human lyrical content, Letter to You will stand the test of time. That is why Cryptic Rock gives it 4.5 out of 5 stars.