Bruce Springsteen (from the album Nebraska) - Bruce Springsteen has always created music steeped in the Roots of his influences, transferring jukebox, chicken shack and protest march songs into arena rock and roll. In his early years, with albums backed by the E Street Band, Bruce amped up the Jersey shore mix of Rock ‘n Soul and took it to the world….very successfully.
Springsteen and the E Street Band have become synonymous with long sets and jams to keep the crowd on their feet. That tag is due to the boys from Asbury Park, certainly, though for the past thirty years Bruce has released work that is neck deep in the Indie world of taking chances with song and sound. In 1982, Bruce Springsteen brought a four track cassette recorder into his bedroom and recorded Nebraska. The album was a cornerstone for many things; a major star completely ignoring a successful sound and shirking the benefits of state-of-the-art studio gadgetry to funnel the music into a Pop machine.
The songs on Nebraska were originally marked to head into the studio with the full band, and they have been performed in concert with the full E Street might backing them. The result of the recording on cassette is not only the sound captured on tape, but the starkness and solitude of the project. Most songs start with guitar or piano backing newly formed words until the pieces fit enough to arrange. Though the songs on Nebraska never get too far from just guitar and voice, occasionally letting a harmonica come in, the tunes never seem like demos. These songs are fully formed, recorded in a perfect form.
The absence of polish and puff on the title track raises the chill factor as the story of two homicidal lovers plays out over a film noir soundtrack, giving the story a feel of black and white visuals moving across the screen. The tension build is as much a part of the song as the hooks. “Atlantic City” travels on a coast city bus line to enjoy a night out as it tries to find a way to survive in the city’s renewal. The settings and characters on Nebraska are easily seen against the minimized musical backing. Bruce Springsteen captures everything in each story; the way a young boy grows to become a man without ever losing the feeling he gets when he looks up at the “Mansion on the Hill”, or how he lets Joe Roberts tell about the differences found in one bloodline in “Highway Patrolman”.
The fullness of the songs makes Nebraska an album that is much bigger than the sum of its parts. Springsteen took a chance as an artist, and did so without ever taking to the press mill to fan the flames of opening day sales. For many of the FM radio stations playing Nebraska, if these songs had arrived as folk artists they would never have taken airtime. At a time when he could not do chart wrong, Bruce Springsteen exposed the world to a different way of hearing a song; and did so without the mass public realizing that they had learned something.
“Johnny 99” comes to life with a train whistle wail before launching into a story about the bad taste that no work, alcohol and bad decisions leave in your mouth; “Reason to Believe” could have grown from field work and blues folk story songs and “Open All Night” plugs in its electric guitar to back the story of a factory worker hurtling through a North Jersey late-night turnpike looking for the dawn as he heads home following the radio relay towers.
Bruce Springsteen has continued to take chances with his music. He is a member of the Indie Roots community for not only the honor he gives the past and the ability to expand and grow, but also because of how he released the records as part of his catalog, not isolated pet projects to cash in on nostalgia. DANNY MCCLOSKEY/RA