June 14, 2019 Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars (Album Review)
America is an interesting place with an interesting history, but most vividly has always been viewed as the land of opportunity; a place where one’s voice can be heard. Born and raised with a working class ethic, Bruce Springsteen is as much an iconic part of the country’s musical history as any other that came before him. Known for poetic lyrics and a storytelling voice that speaks to the heart and soul of people, the artist affectionately known as The Boss returns with his brand-new studio album Western Stars on Friday, June 14th through Columbia Records.
Marking his nineteenth overall solo studio album, and his first in five long years, Western Stars is a 13-song collection with a different approach than its predecessor, 2014’s High Hopes. High Hopes, a strong album full of well-written songs, as a whole, covered a broad range of lyrical themes not necessarily cohesive to one strict concept. An album which featured the E Street Band, plus Guitarist Tom Morello, High Hopes had a fresh, diverse sound, both with full on electric tunes and more stripped down offerings, all of which sound killer live.
These footnotes laid out, with Western Stars Springsteen opts to go with the old adage that more is less and strips back the sound even further. A mix of Folk Rock tunes with acoustic guitar, piano, and some subdued cinematic orchestration, lyrically the album follows a steady theme consistent with the album title and even the cover art – a wonderful piece featuring a beautiful stallion galloping forward into an open frontier, embedding an image in your head of a wild spirit without a home to call their own. Eye-catching, it explicitly reveals the theme entwined within the songs that make up Western Stars right from the opening tracks “Hitch Hikin’” and “The Wayfarer.”
From here our character embarks on a journey across an American frontier of mountains, desert spaces, and highways as a wayward son taking in many sights and experiences along the way. Vividly drawn out on songs such as the more upbeat “Tucson Train,” the Country twang of “Western Stars,” and the near danceable “Sleepy Joe’s Café,” it paints imagery of what seems to be a life of solitude. That said, for the sake of this story, it appears to be the only path the individual we are following knows. Which leads us to the downbeat tale told in “Drive Fast (The Stuntman)” along with the reflective “Chasin’ Wild Horses” about a man who has sacrificed a great deal, but is still standing in the wake of his decisions.
If all this is too melancholy for you, the brighter moments follow with the colorful “Sundown,” a cut where Springsteen really lets go of the reins, belting out some powerful notes. Then just like that, the mood is dropped back down with the gruff, raw “Somewhere North of Nashville” which moves into the emotion of the romantic-vibed “Stones,” the heartbreak of lost love in the fuller sounding “There Goes My Miracle,” the fitting plead of “Hello Sunshine,” and the final destination at “Moonlight Motel.”
Playing out like a movie, you can almost envision the scenes shifting from song to song on Western Stars with endless skies, broad landscapes, and perhaps a friendly face here or there along the way. Moreover, Springsteen’s human touch really brings the tunes to life, creating a sense of hurt, and making the stories three dimensional. No, this is not an upbeat record full of radio-powered hits such as 1980’s The River or the mega album, 1984’s Born in the U.S.A., but it is Springsteen at his finest: truthful and telling stories like only he can. That is why Cryptic Rock gives Western Stars 4 out of 5 stars.