Singing "The Boss" Phrases
We hold our heroes dear, and that's a situation fraught with potential danger, right from the start. Hollywood retells the tale with grim regularity, of the obssessive fan who convinces himself that a public image is in reality his personal property or plaything, and everyone can name at least one absolute genius who dumbed-down fast the minute they experienced any widespread acclaim. Bruce Springsteen, who turned 48 or 49 (the exact year has remained murky), and whose songs are the subject of the new "various artist" 2-CD tribute, "One Step UpTwo Steps Back", was luckier than most. He burst upon the scene like a supernova relatively early, in the fallout of 1975's unprecented "Born To Run", Newsweek-Time, two-covers-at-once [coup], so he simply hadn't been around long enough for many followers to feel let down, betrayed or jilted.Still there are those, myself among them, who maintain that the mass marketing and subsequent lionization of Bruce Springsteen was accomplished at the expense of depth of musical quality, that the E-Street Band assembled by (manager) Jon Landau was indeed a dumbed-down and mechanical version of the Mike Appel-era group that played on the first and second albums plus "Born To Run" itself, and that "Born In The U. S. A.", despite its Oakland Coliseum volume, cracker barrel invective and throat-constricting rasp, is actually paler and weaker than either "Greetings From Asbury Park" andor, especially, the Spanish Harlem boil of "The Wild, The Innocent & The E-Street Shuffle".Not that any of this is necessarily relevant to a discussion of "One StepTwo Steps", mind you. Though it is perhaps telling that of the records' twenty-eight tracks, only David Bowie's elegant circa-1975 reworking of "It's Hard To Be A Saint In The City" is drawn from "Greetings", while Ben E. King's "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)" (an unfortunate choice that doesn't suit King's voice or delivery) is the sole "Shuffle" representative. Then again, only Syd Straw's slightly mannered "Meeting Across The River," a song which is any case more Broadway musical than rock, is drawn from "Born To Run". To its credit, ten of the album's tunes are rarities that Springsteen himself has never released on an album.The performances themselves range from an adequate few to an excellent many. The album is sequenced intelligently, gathering intensity as it goes along, the personnel is interesting and varied (e.g., no Elvis Costello, no Los Lobos), and if there is little here that stands as rarefied reinvention, the overall impression is of solidly played and heartfelt renditions, a fitting tribute to Springsteen's vast reserve of genuinely moving songcraft. Besides which, any album subtitled "The Songs of Bruce Springsteen" shouldn't be about angles and invention, anyhow. It should be about everyday grime, hardwon verities and honest reportage from the raw and nagging places of the human spirit. The Boss didn't cultivate that cornfed drifter's drawl of his for nothing.The "One Step UpTwo Steps Back" A-list includes longtime crony Nils Lofgren's paritally reunited Grin doing "Wreck On The Highway"; the underrated Marshall Crenshaw's new wavey "All Or Nothin' At All"; "Darkness On The Edge Of Town" by the equally underappreciated Martin Zeller; complete unknown Robbin Thompson's livewire "Guilty" and a snarling, Presleyesque "Tiger Rose" by ageless oldtimer Sonny Burgess. Quincy Jones's arrangement of "Protection" for Donna Summer is (forgive me) a thriller, and both Gary U. S. Bonds and The Red Bank Rockers' vocalist, John J. T. Bowen, invest their chosen material with r 'n b immediacy. The only real disappointment is the decision to close with Richie Havens' somber spin on the Oscar-winning "Streets Of Philadelphia," which feels calculated. At the risk of harping, "New York City Serenade" would've worked just fine, as a nod to Springsteen's Spectorian roots [and] as a lovely vehicle for Havens' purposeful, sprawling conception.