Music review: Bruce Springsteen shows his power as a master storyteller in live album



Bruce Springsteen

Sony Music

4.5 stars

As far as live albums go, Springsteen On Broadway sees American music icon Bruce Springsteen turn the format into a work of art.

The soundtrack to a concert film now showing on Netflix – recorded during his wildly popular, over a year-long residency at New York’s Walter Kerr Theatre – affirms his reputation as a singular singer-songwriter, a captivating entertainer, and above all, an astute storyteller.

Even without the visuals of the Netflix special, the 21/2-hour album makes for a compelling listen.

With the exception of cameos by his wife Patti Scialfa, it features just Springsteen – accompanied by his trusted acoustic guitar, a piano and harmonica – talking and singing about his complex relationships with his parents, surroundings and distinctively American experiences.

The material might not be new and a lot of the monologues are based on material from his 2016 memoir Born To Run, but they are heartfelt, humorous and at times, delivered with fiery fervour.

He sings with full conviction yet he also readily admits that he is a fraud, having never lived through all the tales that he cooked up through his many and varied interactions with fellow Americans from all creeds and backgrounds.

The selection of songs is tight, only 16 from his extensive discography dating back to the early 1970s, but they represent his wide oeuvre.

Some of the songs sound far removed from their popular, recorded versions. One of his signature songs, the anthemic Born In The U.S.A. from 1984, is refashioned into a bottleneck blues jam, stripping the tune down to itsroots as a protest song decrying the Vietnam war and its disastrous effects.

Growin’ Up, originally from his 1973 debut, is almost 12 minutes long, with captivating stories about how he discovered the power of rock ‘n’ roll and the blossoming of his rock star dreams interspersed between the verses and choruses.

His youthful need to break free of the humdrum of his hometown, and reconnecting with his roots in his later years are vividly described in songs like Thunder Road and Born To Run (both 1975) as well as My Hometown (1984).

He takes stock of the complicated relationship he had with his father (“my father was my hero….and my greatest foe”) on My Father’s House from 1982 and Long Time Comin’ from 2005, and the joie de vivre that he picked up from his mother on the rare track, The Wish.

Cynics might see a live album of greatest hits, in lieu of new music, as a year-end stocking stuffer, a marketing strategy designed to move units during the holiday season.

That it might be, but Springsteen On Broadway is also more. It stands on its own and will be viewed as an important milestone in The Boss’ long and hallowed music career.

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