Always favoring the gritty dreams-verses-reality mentality conveyed by Bruce Springsteen on “Born to Run” and “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” I’ll openly admit that it took me a few listens to embrace the American West tone embedded in Springsteen’s detailed storytelling on his latest release.
The subtle orchestration supporting the new tracks provides a calming elegance to the tales of loneliness, regret, love and hard lessons learned.
“Thumb stuck out as I go/I’m just travelin' up the road/Maps don't do much for me, friend/I follow the weather and the wind,” sings Springsteen on the opening track of “Western Stars.”
“Hitch Hikin’” not only introduces the set, but it builds the mindset for the 12 numbers that follow. The song details the adventures of a drifter moving from town to town with the help of three friendly drivers willing to briefly share in his nomadic adventure.
The drivers range from a family man with his pregnant wife to a trucker counting the miles until he returns home to the gearhead jumping at the opportunity to show what his mean machine can do on the inviting highway.
For the traveler, the three drivers represent lifestyles that are in stark contradiction to the life he has welcomed.
Springsteen continues with intricate images of life on the open road with “The Wayfarer.” Just as the main character in the opening track embraces his carefree spirit, “The Wayfarer” follows another wanderer riding the white lines and contemplating how some folks remain content with a traditional house with a white picket fence.
Messages of renewal and lost love are delivered on two of the album’s standout arrangements.
“Tucson Train” is a tender love song about a man attempting to rectify his past sins as he eagerly awaits the return of his love as Springsteen sings, “I'll wait all God's creation/Just to show her a man can change/Now my baby's coming in on the Tucson train.”
In contrast, “There Goes My Miracle” speaks to the emptiness and isolation left behind when the search for love and happiness ends and heartache takes up permanent residence.
On “Hello Sunshine,” Springsteen addresses the need to put away the walking shoes and leave the road previously described on the first two tracks for a life that allows the sunshine to stay and provide a brighter outlook for the future.
With “Western Stars,” the 69-year-old Springsteen proves he still has plenty of surprises left for future musical pursuits.
Clint Rhodes is the Herald-Standard music reviewer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.