Albums Of The Week

The Boss still rocks

Bruce Springsteen's fiery spirit comes to the fore in his new album Chapter And Verse

Bruce Springsteen's music career spans 50 years.
Bruce Springsteen's music career spans 50 years.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A companion release to Born To Run, the new autobiography by Bruce Springsteen, Chapter And Verse, is a breathless account of The Boss' wide-ranging oeuvre dating back 50 years.

More than just a collection of the most significant tunes from official releases, Chapter And Verse also includes five previously unreleased and rare tracks that offer a peek into his early years, the foundation that makes him one of the United States' most beloved troubadours.

If you are used to the 67-year- old's gruff and throaty-voice, be prepared to be mildly startled by how high-pitched his vocals are on The Castiles' Baby I. Named after a shampoo, The Castiles were one of the then-teenage Springsteen's first bands, and he has a hand in writing the 1966 track, a pastiche of The Beatles' early bubblegum pop works circa Please Please Me.

The second Castiles tune tackles Willie Dixon's You Can't Judge A Book By The Cover. Recorded in 1967, it is a bit of a ramshackle live jam, closer in spirit to rock 'n' roll tunes from its nascent days in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

But even then, his fiery spirit comes to the fore and you can visualise the sweat and bulging veins on him as he hollers these catchy tunes.



    Bruce Springsteen


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His darker tendencies are showcased on He's Guilty (The Judge Song), a heavy-hitting soul rock tune by Steel Mill, which also includes his lifelong collaborators, such as ace guitarist Steve Van Zandt. Notwithstanding its morally vague lyrics ("Now George was speeding, running down his mother/Stabbing his wife then strangling her lover"), its blistering energy is something that would become a hallmark of his later years.

Then, there's a country-tinged ode to anti-heroes Jesse James and Billy The Kid, Ballad Of Jesse James (1971), by the short-lived Bruce Springsteen Band ("Don't you wanna be an outlaw, yeah baby,/ Just a poor boy caught on the skids"), also featuring Van Zandt and future E Street Band members and bassist Garry Tallent.

Perhaps most intriguing among the previously unreleased lot is the 1972 boisterous acoustic-folk tune, Henry Boy, whose lengthy lyrics tell the story of an urban protagonist ("It's a hard world when you're the new kid in town, ain't it, Henry Boy"). It is the type of song that had him pegged as "the next Bob Dylan" in those early years.

The other songs in the album are pretty much Springsteen canon, the tunes that define his career.

His famous musings on the dichotomy between the American dream and the American reality are well documented on signature tunes such as the bittersweet stadium-stomp of Born In The U.S.A. and The Ghost Of Tom Joad, a folk-styled anthem for the disenfranchised.

While the album only scratches the surface of The Boss' prolific output, it is still a rich and mesmerising capsule of the body of work by one of rock's most passionate singers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2016, with the headline 'The Boss still rocks'. Print Edition | Subscribe