Western Stars

Bruce Springsteen

Columbia, 2019


REVIEW BY: Daniel Camp


For the last few years, Bruce Springsteen has been putting on a masterclass in how to age gracefully as a rock star. His most profitable path would have been to continue touring the globe indefinitely, belting out 50-year old hits for audiences amped to hear them for the thousandth time. The easiest route would have been to stick with the formula he’d been applying since 2007’s Magic by releasing a new, pedestrian album every three years or so and then briefly touring with the E Street Band to promote it before heading back to the studio for another go-round.

But instead, the Boss has spent the last few years tending to his legacy: releasing box sets and long-guarded recordings of old live shows, writing a critically acclaimed autobiography, and then turning those ruminations about his life into an intimate Broadway show. Western Stars is the latest example of Springsteen acting his age instead of running from it, a wistful, warm album that pairs orchestral arrangements with his trademark character-driven songs to do what he does best: tell the stories nobody else is telling. It’s an album that unapologetically announces: this is for grown-ups.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

It’s difficult to describe Western Stars’ individual songs, because melodically and thematically they blend together to tell one sprawling, American story about restlessness, love, and loss in the American West. “Hitch Hikin’,” “The Wayfarer,” and “Chasing Wild Horses” all describe rootless men with eyes on the next town, hesitant to look back. “Western Stars” and “Sleepy Joe’s Café” celebrate the beautiful, comforting destinations along the way. And “Hello Sunshine” and “There Goes My Miracle” offer looks at the joys and perils of love when you’re unwilling – or unable – to settle in one spot. To try and review these songs individually is like trying to describe individual chapters in a book; you can do it, but you’re better served looking at how they work together to tell one unified story. In words that will be music to the ears of DV readers, this is not a collection of songs; it’s an album.

Springsteen’s stories are held together by the now-familiar brand of heartland-rock-meets-folk music that has become his bread and butter over the last decade as he’s shifted from rock star to legend. But what sets Western Stars apart from albums with similar thematic focuses and musical choices –Nebraska and Devils & Dust immediately come to mind – is the gorgeous orchestral arrangements underpinning songs that might otherwise fade from memory. The strings give the album both a cinematic scope and a sense of earned maturity, lending gravitas to the stories Springsteen is telling.

Western Stars is unlikely to win new converts to the cult of the Boss. Neither do I expect any of its songs to make their way onto the Billboard charts, much less to rocket to the top of them. But frankly, those are not the aims or the expectations of this album. Western Stars is not about winning new fans, selling tickets, or rocking out; it’s about a 70-year musician acting his age while still doing what he loves and does best. Like the grandfather he is, Bruce Springsteen still has stories to tell.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2019 Daniel Camp and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia, and is used for informational purposes only.