There have been times throughout Bruce Springsteen’s career when California has called. He named a song for the state after his parents moved there in 1971, and he’d return to it, in life and writing, repeatedly, chasing his dreams like Steinbeck’s Tom Joad. Western Stars (out June 14th) is the latest visit: a lushly orchestrated set of throwback, country-tinged folk pop that, despite some resemblance to previous works like Nebraska and The Ghost of Tom Joad, sounds like little else in his catalog. Frankly, its sheen is off-putting at first. But once you settle in, the set reveals some of Springsteen’s most beguiling work ever.
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Like most Springsteen fans who are not music critics, I have only listened to the three songs that have been released.
At first, I thought “Hello Sunshine” was okay, but the more I listen to it the more I like it. As many Springsteen songs, it strikes a nice balance between the themes of “Born to Run” and “My Hometown” (“miles to go is miles away”). This is a tension I explored earlier this year in a piece at Religion News Service.
When I heard “Tuscon Train” for the first time I was not a fan. The whole thing seemed like a mess. But after watching the video (Springsteen’s music is always better when seen), thinking more deeply about the lyrics, and listening to it about 100 more times, I think it is my favorite song of the three releases. More than the other two songs, the lyrics of “Tuscon Train” celebrate work, lost chances, the hope of redemption, and the plight of ordinary people–all Springsteen staples.