Posts Tagged ‘Letter to You’

Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa

Lately, Bruce Springsteen has been contemplating his past. He started the previous decade by revisiting four older songs on the otherwise newly written 2012 album Wrecking Ball, which also paid tribute to E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons after his death in 2011. Two years later, Springsteen filled the entire High Hopes LP with songs he’d written, but then discarded, for other projects – some dating back to the mid ’90s. And 2019’s ’70s-soft-pop homage Western Stars contained songs that were recorded years earlier.

Then there’s the 2016 memoir Born to Run and its sorta stage version, Springsteen on Broadway, that opened a year later and ran for 14 months. Both projects were all about looking back.

On Letter to You, his 20th album, Springsteen confronts mortality, talks with ghosts and pulls out three cuts from his early-’70s songbook he never got around to releasing before. There’s no getting around it: The past lurks behind every note. But, ironically, he hasn’t sounded this alive and in-the-moment in years.

Much of that has to do with the spontaneity surrounding the record’s creation. Many of the songs were quickly composed by Springsteen and then recorded in five days with the E Street Band at his home in 2019. It’s the first time the group made this much music live in the studio since the first part of the ’80s.

It starts solemnly, though, as Springsteen whisper-sings the first line to opener “One Minute You’re Here” – “Big black train coming down the track,” evoking the traditional blues, country and folk metaphor for death. From the start, Letter to You lets you know where it’s headed, but there’s also joy in the celebration of life as an understanding, and acceptance, of what follows. The album was made pre-coronavirus, but at times it sure sounds like a product of the pandemic.

The title track recalls the re-energized and reinvigorating spirit of 2002’s The Rising, Springsteen’s heartfelt response to 9/11 and his first album with the E Street Band in nearly two decades. There are similar anthem-sized songs on Letter to You, digging up glockenspiel (“Burnin’ Train”), lyrical references (“House of a Thousand Guitars”) and even outtakes (“Janey Needs a Shooter”) from Springsteen’s past. Guitars jab and organs swell throughout, and Springsteen’s throaty rasp recalls The River’s stadium shakers more than they do the truth-telling troubadour folk found on 2005’s solo Devils & Dust and the reigned-in vocal clearness of more recent records like 2009’s Working on a Dream.

It doesn’t all work. The self-mythologizing “Last Man Standing” aims for Born to Run-style grandeur but lands flat both musically and lyrically (“Faded pictures in an old scrapbook / Faded pictures that somebody took”), despite a sax solo by Jake Clemons straight from Uncle Clarence’s playbook. The forgettable “The Power of Prayer” could be a leftover from any Springsteen album from the past 15 years.

Springsteen doesn’t get too political on Letter to You. Only the rousing “Rainmaker” makes passing references to the current climate, dropping in lines about a “house … on fire,” a “mean season” and how “sometimes folks need to believe in something so bad.” He never comes out and says “Trump,” but it’s not hard to connect the dots from the songs central character – “Says white’s black and black’s white, says night’s day and day is night” – to the divisive president.

Mostly Letter to You is about finding peace in the past, so in some ways the trilogy of ’70s castaways – “Janey Needs a Shooter,” “If I Was the Priest” and “Song for Orphans” – form the album’s center. The songs sound very much like pieces from Springsteen’s back pages, even with the updated performances and modern co-production by Ron Aniello. Biblical themes, along with Dylanesque wordplay and harmonica, and big, sweeping musical flourishes, run through the tracks, which haunt the album as much as “Ghosts,” the LP’s most personal confrontation of days gone by. They’re also the longest on the album, each clocking in at more than six minutes.

Letter to You ends as contemplatively as it begins, with the hopeful “I’ll See You in My Dreams” declaring “death is not the end.” Like the opening “One Minute You’re Here,” it serves as a melancholy bookend to Springsteen’s most reflective work. But his reconciliation with the past and, ultimately, his mortality comes down to a single line in the bustling “Ghosts”: “I’m alive!” And on this stirring band album, that breathless sentiment is both earned and deserved in the end.

A documentary on Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s new album Letter to You is coming to Apple TV+ on October 23rd.

“‘Ghosts’ is about the beauty and joy of being in a band, and the pain of losing one another to illness and time. ‘Ghosts’ tries to speak to the spirit of the music itself, something none of us owns but can only discover and share together. In the E Street Band, it resides in our collective soul, powered by the heart.” – Bruce

New album “LetterToYou” featuring the E Street Band coming October 23rd.

Almost nothing is known about Bruce Springsteen’s follow up to 2019’s Western Stars, including any timeframe for its release, but he’s indicated that it’s a collection of rock songs recorded with the E Street Band. Last year, he told Martin Scorsese that the songs came to him after a long period where he found himself unable to write for a rock band. “It just came out of almost nowhere,” he said. “And it was good. I had about two weeks of those little daily visitations [of songs], and it was so nice. It makes you so happy. You go, ‘Fuck, I’m not fucked, all right?’”

Bruce Springsteen will release Letter to You, a new rock album recorded live in his New Jersey home studio with the members of the E Street Band, The title track is also the first single and is available now.

“I love the emotional nature of Letter To You,” he said in a statement. “And I love the sound of the E Street Band playing completely live in the studio, in a way we’ve never done before, and with no overdubs. We made the album in only five days, and it turned out to be one of the greatest recording experiences I’ve ever had.”

In addition to nine new songs, the album also includes fresh recordings of three songs that predate Springsteen’s 1973 debut album, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.: “Janey Needs A Shooter,” “If I Was the Priest” and “Song for Orphans.” Assuming Springsteen keeps the lyrics from the early bootlegged versions, “If I Was the Priest” (covered by Hollies singer Allan Clarke in the Seventies) is a sacrilegious fantasy (“If Jesus was the sheriff and I was the priest/If my lady was an heiress and my mama was a thief”), while “Song for Orphans” is a Dylan-esque tale of “aimless quest-less renegade brats who live their lives in songs,” and “Janey” is a slightly twisted love song.

Springsteen wrote at least some of Letters to You last spring, judging from comments he made in a public conversation with Martin Scorsese last year.  “I couldn’t write anything for the band,” he said. “And I said, ‘Well, of course … you’ll never be able to do that again!’ And it’s a trick every time you do it, you know? But it’s a trick that, because of that fact that you can’t explain, cannot be self-consciously duplicated. It has to come to you in inspiration. And then about a month or so ago, I wrote almost an album’s worth of material for the band. And it came out of just… I mean, I know where it came from, but at the same time, it just came out of almost nowhere. And it was good, you know. I had about two weeks of those little daily visitations, and it was so nice. It makes you so happy.

Release date: on October 23rd

bruce springsteen letter to you album cover