Bryan: Well, we're up to 2005 already - two decades into the Springsteen story, "we" meaning myself and Bryant "taker of the wickets" Burnette, leg spin bowler for the Tuscaloosa Toros. Bryant! Welcome once more.
Bryant: Thank you. With regard to the cricket stuff, it's like... all the individual components of that sentence make sense, yet I have ZERO idea what it means in practical terms. Except a vague image of... taking Wicket? Like Ewok-Wicket? In the current climate, I fell uncomfortable developing this image any further.
Bryan: You're right. Let's just dive in.
Bryan: 4.3/5 Love this one. I only wish there was additionally a cover by Johnny Cash during his American Recordings phase. Although I guess that was more about reinterpreting things surprisingly, whereas this would seem tailor-made for Cash. Then again, it's perfect as it is.
Bryant: This is a lot better than I remembered it being. The harmonica and guitar section toward the end is fantastic. 4.25/5
"All the Way Home"
Bryan: 4/5 Written back in '91. The harmonica doesn't add much and it's too bad. But it's a mellow little tune that I have no complaints with.
Bryant: This totally sounds like it comes from the Human Touch era, so I’m glad you mentioned that. This doesn’t do much for me, but it’s okay. 2/5
Bryan: 3.75/5 It says a lot about Bruce's career that he can slip back and forth between songs like this, or "Starkweather" along another axis, and love songs, or big anthems, etc. I'm trying to think of a perspective I've ever felt uncomfortable Bruce exploring or taking me along with him. (Maybe "Secret Garden.") Bruce can sing from the POV of a prostitute and you still believe him. It's a gift. Anyway this one might be too bright for Nebraska, musically, but thematically it'd have fit well in over there.
Bryant: It’s always bothered me that he does a weird accent on this one, because it feels like it blunts the impact of the lyrics. For my money, there was a much better version of this song that never got recorded. Or, at any rate, never got released. 2/5 I would be a bit lower without the final couple of lines, which are haunting. I still think they could have been delivered more strongly, though.
Bryan: 4/5 Very Dylan-y. In fact is this a Dylan song? (pause) I had to look it up. It is not. If someone inserted this into Dylan's back catalog would anyone even notice? Besides saying hey, cool track, I mean?
Bryant: I don’t think this had ever struck me as being Dylanesque, but now that you’ve pointed it out, I can hear it. I love this one. 3.5/5 Points deducted for Bruce trying to swallow the line “ain’t gonna fuck it up this time” instead of belting it out proudly.
Bryan: You're quite right there - he definitely undersings the f-bomb.
Bryan: 3.5/5 Just when I think this one was getting away from him the organ and piano and other instruments rise up in the mix. Cool lyrics. Can't argue with tunes like this, really.
Bryant: 2/5 Great subject for a Springsteen song, but it’s not a great song, sadly.
Bryan: 2.5/5 Some interesting things but not a huge fan of whatever drawl Bruce is trying on here.
Bryant: Bruce’s vocals on most of this album really bother me, and it’s not entirely due to the drawl. He also seems to have reverted to his Asbury Park tendency to want to not quite get close enough to the microphone. There’s a great version of this song waiting to be unleashed, but they didn’t find it during these sessions. I do like it, though; I just think it has untapped potential. 2.25/5
Bryan: 2/5 I mean who am I to criticize? But not for me.
Bryant: You are NOBODY to criticize. Nobody!!! Me, too, because I don’t like this song at all. The vocals here are especially annoying. 1.75/5
“Jesus Was an Only Son”
Bryan: 3/5 I kept waiting for the withering couplet to puncture or otherwise illuminate the motivation behind this straightforwardly gospel little number. But nope, seems to be exactly what it appears to be. Which is totally fine of course.
Bryant: I’d be kind of interested to hear what Springsteen would do with a gospel album. That genre is not by any means my jam, but when an artist I love – Elvis, Dylan – gets a hold of it, the results tend to be very much to my liking. I agree that this song seems to be lacking something. It’s very similar to most of the Tom Joad songs in that regard, but I like this marginally more than most of those. 2.25/5
Bryan: 4.25/5 Another one that could be slipped onto a Dylan album back there and no one would blink. And another straightforwardly sweet little number. Love this track, although a younger me might've been bored. I can't really explain why, except I've noticed that more and more lately, and especially going through this Springsteen stuff.
Bryant: This is fine, but I’m kind of meh on it. 2.25/5
Bryan: 2/5 I'm sure the story's fine but I've listened to it 3 or 4 times and still can't understand a word of it.
Bryant: He really does have mushmouth here, doesn’t he? Brendan O’Brien ought to be ashamed of himself for not producing these songs more effectively. 2/5
Bryan: I know you and I discuss the loudness wars and Brendan O'Brien in one of these write-ups. I can't recall when. Temporal vertigo is a side effect of co-blogging and behind-the-scenes prep, made all the more dizzying when it encompasses emails, blogs, and text messages.
Bryan: 4.5/5 Awesome. Would've made a good one for early 70s McCartney. A little uneven here and there but who cares.
Bryant: I’d forgotten this song! I love it. 3.5/5 But I don’t love it as much as the high-octane version I imagine the Band playing. Is there such a thing? Might be, for all I know.
Bryan: 2.25/5 Great lyrics and vibe/ idea, but not the most appealing music to me. Kind of like "Black Cowboys" in that regard. Never really goes anywhere as a song for me. I do kind of like the outro, though.
Bryant: It never goes anywhere for me, either. 2/5
~Bryant: 29.75 total, 2.48 average. That’s a nut-hair ahead of The Ghost of Tom Joad, which is pretty much exactly what I’d have predicted. They both kind of blur together in my mind. If Nebraska didn’t exist, I’d be convinced this my fault as a listener. But it does exist, so I know for a fact that it isn’t just that I want Clarence Clemons sax solos and goofy Steve Van Zandt background vocals. It’s that these are inferior songs. But not bad songs, by any means.
Bryan: I ended up with a surprising 40.35 and 3.36 average. Which seems way too high. Let's plug it into the rankings:
Lucky Town 2.15
Greetings from Asbury Park 2.19
The Ghost of Tom Joad 2.44
In Concert / MTV Plugged 2.82
Chimes of Freedom 2.86
Blood Brothers 2.88
Human Touch 2.9
Book of Dreams 3.1
The Rising 3.3
Devils and Dust 3.36
The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle 3.43
Live in New York City 3.5
Loose Ends 3.63
Greatest Hits (New Tracks Only) 3.65
The River 3.71
Tunnel of Love 3.8
Darkness on the Edge of Town 3.82
Live ’75 - ‘85 4
Born to Run 4.41
Born in the USA 5.4
Human Touch 1.7
Lucky Town 2.15
The Ghost of Tom Joad 2.46
Devils and Dust 2.48
Book of Dreams 2.58
Chimes of Freedom 2.69
In Concert / Mtv Plugged 2.75
Greetings from Asbury Park 2.75
Blood Brothers 2.9
The Rising 3.1
Tunnel of Love 3.35
Greatest Hits (New Tracks Only) 3.38
The River 3.39
Live in New York City 3.48
The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle 3.68
Live ’75 - ‘85 3.7
Loose Ends 3.92
Born to Run 4.35
Darkness on the Edge of Town 4.4
Born in the USA 4.88
Bryan: Well, not too high after all - between The Rising and E Street Shuffle seems exactly where it should be for me.
You probably noticed the lack of screencaps above. It's because tonight we have a special treat for you, and it made sense to save them all for it. Take it away, Bryant!
Bryant: Upon its initial release, Devils and Dust was available in DualDisc format, which was a CD on one side and a DVD on the other. The DVD contains the album in 5.1 Dolby sound, plus a half-hour documentary in which Springsteen performs a few of the songs and talks a bit about some of the ideas underpinning the album.
I’ve pulled some of the interesting observations, transcribed them (with a few necessary editorial amendments for clarity’s sake), and then given you my impressions of the five performances.
Springsteen: “You have to constantly be writing from your own inner core in some fashion, I find, you know; no matter how you dress it. On my early records, [I was dressing it]; whether it was in New York City or whether it was in [the] Jersey Shore or whether it’s set in the West, you’re still writing from the essential core of who you are. That has to be a place in every song or the song dies.”
Springsteen: “[Y]our own voice is supposed to – if you’re doing it correctly, is supposed to – disappear into the voice of the person you’re singing about and who’s telling you the story, and what would they do, how would they behave in this circumstance, the rhythm of their speech … that’s sort of where the music comes in.”
(1) "Devils and Dust" – A stripped-down performance that doesn’t alter the song in any essential way, but may be preferable to the studio recording. Just Bruce, a guitar, and a harmonica inside a room in some house somewhere. That’s really all this song needs, though.
Springsteen: “I was signed as a guy with an acoustic guitar; when I was 22. That was how I was signed to my record deal. I always, even when I was in my late teens, had a band; and then, [when I wasn’t playing with them], I would go down to the coffee shop with my twelve-string and I would sing a whole group of songs that wouldn’t work in the bar, that needed more attention or were just … different.”
(2) "Long Time Comin’" – Being played in this guise makes the song a bit more wistful and bittersweet, which works just fine for me. It’s a great tune no matter what guise Bruce gives it.
|Love this shot.|
Springsteen: “I’m talking about stories, alright? Because what I did on this record I’ve done on a few other records: [tell] very specific, narrative stories. These are all songs about people whose souls are in danger or at risk, through where they are in the world or what the world is bringing to them. That’s a human constant, and whether people are religious or spiritual or not, that risk is something people instinctively feel on a daily basis.”
(3) "Reno" – Not a favorite of mine, but this version is probably better than the one on the album. It’s more intimate, which obviously helps it. It sounds like a very light piano track (and/or an almost-subconscious synth line) has been added, which is odd. It works for the song, it’s just an odd decision to take away from Bruce’s solo playing by adding to it.
Springsteen: “The artist is always creating a box. You’re always building this world that [you] sort of get caught inside of yourself, so you’re always looking for the trap door. And you’re always trying to come up with different stylistic ideas to help you just subtly kind of … transition out of that box. Besides lyrically, I also try to [find] small shifts in tone that sounded like the characters that I was singing about. Some of it is very light, you know, so the slightly-different vocal tonalities help me approach songs with a [fresh] point of view.”
(4) "All I’m Thinkin’ About Is You" – Here’s one I don’t like anywhere near as much as the album version. Bruce’s falsetto here is iffy at times, and that’s being polite. But it’s a great song, and even a mildly compromised performance of it doesn’t change that. There are background vocals; sounds almost like a kid singing along from another room, which, if so, is pretty great.
Springsteen: “The people that are interesting are the people that have something eating at them…
…and they’re not exactly sure what that thing is. The characters on this record are all trying to find their way through that; through those questions. And some do somewhat successfully; and some, you know, come to tragic ends.”
(5) "Matamoros Banks" – The lyrics here seem stronger to me than in the studio version, which probably just means I was paying closer attention. Maybe that’s due to having the visuals of Bruce sitting there with a guitar, delivering a performance that, for all I know, is intended just for me. Or maybe the intimacy of the performance itself is more suitable. I don’t know. Still not a favorite song, but within the context of this documentary, I think it’s gained in stature for me. It probably helps the entire album for me a bit.
The performance culminates in a rather lovely stretch of falsetto crooning from Springsteen who, when the song ends, leans back in his chair, looks at somebody off camera, nods, and says, both to them and to himself, “Yeah…!” It’s less an exclamation, though, than a response; almost as if the entire performance has been a response of some sort that Bruce had to find via the song. He’s almost surprised by it, as if he’d not entirely expected to find the answer he set out seeking. On the face of it, it seems like a very simple moment; but something about it suggests anything but simplicity. Very cool.
Springsteen: “The idea of ‘devils AND dust’ [is] fighting with that thing that is eating away at you, and it’s often this very amorphous, confusing battle. This dusty, hard-to-see, hard-to-find-your-way-through battle. And I think that that has a lot to do with a lot of the characters on it on a lot of my records, and this one particularly.”
All in all, this is a solid little documentary that helps me understand more of where Springsteen was coming from in the making of Devils and Dust. Context means a lot with music; or, at least, it can mean a lot. So it stands to reason that by adding context, one’s appreciation of songs like these increases.
Still, this is no Nebraska. An unfair comparison, but one I can’t help making.