By Ian Krietzberg
Arts & Entertainment Editor
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that everyone who calls the Garden State home has, at the very least, heard of “The Boss,” Bruce Springsteen. And now, the Boss is back — though he’s definitely a bit different.
He has always represented a rare kind of musical tenacity, releasing his first studio album “Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.,” with the E-Street Band back in 1973 — the album that elevated the Asbury Park native to fame, lifting him and his guitar out from the back corner of the Stone Pony and depositing him onto the national stage.
Springsteen is an American icon. The singer-songwriter tells complex, beautiful stories that every American can instantly identify with — stories of hope through pain, freedom from any variety of metaphorical shackles. He has done it with driving guitars, mournful pianos and screaming saxophones, an orchestra that elevates his husky voice.
And though Springsteen has never stopped releasing music — he currently has 20 studio albums out — the last album he recorded with the famed E-Street Band was 1984’s “Born In The U.S.A.,” arguably one of his most iconic albums to date.
Recently, the last living member of Springsteen’s first band, the Castiles, lost a fight with cancer, making the 71-year-old the sole survivor of his first band.
This sentiment was not lost on him — it led him to reunite with his original E-Street Band, and together, the newly reunited group produced a 12-track album that showcases a side of Springsteen that has never been quite this clear.
In the 58-minute long album entitled “Letter To You,” the rockstar tones everything down, delivering decidedly folksy songs. His voice is huskier than ever, though still remarkably sounds fantastic. The signature piano intros and screaming saxophones are back, but the focus of this album is on the lyrics rather than the music.
“There’s aging and loss of people as time goes by, and that’s part of what the record is,” Springsteen says in the album’s description on Apple Music, “And then at the same time, you’re sort of celebrating the fact that the band goes on and we carry their spirits with us.”
Throughout the album, he faces the loss of his friends as well as his own mortality. And though the album opens with that simple, sad song, the sentiment changes as the album progresses.
Although it deals with death, it is not a depressing album. Springsteen, ever the poet, addresses these dark thoughts with a strange kind of defiant, youthful exuberance.
“All good souls from near and far / we’ll meet in the house of a thousand guitars,” he sings in “House of a Thousand Guitars.”
Though “Letter To You,” is not nearly as memorable or as powerful as “Born To Run,” for example, I think it’s clear that Springsteen’s goal with this album wasn’t to compete or mimic his earlier work. “Letter To You” is just what it sounds like — an intrinsically personalized album; an hour’s worth of deep, introspective songs that carry a sense of harrowing beauty.
This is more a folk album than a rock album, though the E-Street Band is clearly present which adds a comfortable level of that signature powerhouse music Springsteen is so well-known for.
This is an artist who has been producing music for fifty years — progressivism in music is to be expected, even sought after.
Few artists are capable of capturing the heart and soul of their 50-year-old iconic sound and morph it expertly into a new, more sensitive form of expression.
It’s not always a bad thing for a poet to simplify his verses; do away with some level of fluff and ambiguity and give a straightforward reckoning with the eternal nature of a song.
“And though you’re gone and my heart’s been emptied, it seems / I’ll see you in my dreams.”