Devils & Dust
Despite the lack of the E Street Band, Devils & Dust has little in common with the minimalism of a typical Springsteen solo effort, be it the bleak panoramas of Nebraska or the whispered solemnity of The Ghost of Tom Joad. As haunting as those albums are, their starkness, coupled with stories of doomed and godforsaken outsiders, made for a challenging listen. Combining both buoyant and spare instrumentation, as well as storytelling that is as hopeful as it is desperate, Springsteen has delivered his most diverse and balanced record to date. Although an acoustic guitar anchors a majority of the album, several tracks build a devil-may-care momentum through elements long rooted in country music. Violin, steel guitar and soulful background vocals tear it up on “Long Time Comin’,” while flourishes of acoustic-slide decorate the breezy blues of “All I’m Thinkin’ About.” Naturally, the only element that harkens back to the quiet records of his past is Springsteen’s ability to write character sketches, captivating in their narration and graceful in their emotional honesty. With imagery that implies rather than provides detail, “Devils & Dust” evokes the anguish of a soldier coming to terms with war, whereas “Black Cowboys” reads like a finely wrought short story: a young man choosing between the love of his junkie mother or the allure of the Oklahoma range. It’s a wonder that after 32 years of creating some of rock’s greatest moments, Springsteen remains an artist who continues to advance his craft as a consummate musician and songwriter.