One of my favorite albums of all time is Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska. When Devils & Dust was released back in April, it was compared to that landmark album just as often as his last offering The Rising was mentioned. There are a few songs that fit that bill, but for the most part, it is quite different. Rather than reading like a musical version of Natural Born Killers or In Cold Blood, it is like an extension of The Ghost of Tom Joad, or a perfect soundtrack to Cormac McCarthy’s gothic western novels.
Without his `E’ Street Band in tow, one got the impression that this would be an all acoustic album. To the contrary, there are other musicians, just not Max, Little Steven, Clarence and the rest of the gang. The real highlights on Devils & Dust are the slow and spare songs that mimic the feel of the vast expansive plains of the border states, like the Starbucks-banned prostitute song “Reno,” the very Cormac McCarthy-esque “Silver Palomino,” and “The Hitter.” This is Bruce back to his storytelling best. Springsteen is not so much a pop star as he is a traveling minstrel, in the tradition of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan.
I was pleasantly surprised and somewhat impressed by this album. It held up to repeated listens and withstood intricate inspection while not losing any of its mystery or power. I must throw in that this is a Dualdisc and I have pretty much come down on the side of hating Dualdiscs as a general rule. I didn’t expect to as I am a big fan of extra content on DVDs. The more special features the better was my mantra with the visual format, but with CDs, I want the music and some liner notes, period. The age of the video is pretty much over, and although there are exceptions, I usually don’t take the time to actually watch them. My biggest complaint is that they feature content on both sides of the same disc. For one, I use carrying cases for my CDs when I drive. I don’t want to have to strain my eyes to figure out what CD is in the case. Secondly, it’s not always possible to be extremely delicate with both sides of a disc. It’s a sure invitation for scratches to ruin at least one side of it. Third, most people use iPods now. Dualdiscs cannot be ripped. After all this, I still heartily recommend Devils & Dust which is really saying something.
Bruce Springsteen – The Ghost of Tom Joad
Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A-Changing
Woody Guthrie – This Land is Your Land: The Asch Recordings, Vol.1