Western Stars by Bruce Springsteen [7/10]

Bruce Springsteen has always tested the bounds of his brand of guitar-based singer-songwriter music. On the thirteen songs of “Western Stars,” he upends his normal tropes into a mix of C&W, Americana, and sixties crooning. It can be a shock. The first track, “Hitch Hikin’” begins with a plaintive “thumbs stuck out as I go” and an earworm C&W melody yoked to Bruce’s bruised voice, and all seems normal if muted, so that when the song concludes with a gentle orchestral wash … what the? The next track, “The Wayfarer,” turns on a full symphonic sweep and voice, honeyed up, ignites a memory of Al Martino, yet it is imbued with that Springsteen gravitas that instantly makes it memorable. “There Goes My Miracle” is direct from the Gary Puckett 60s. The title track, an elegy for cowboys, is barely recognisable as the “man who was once the next Dylan,” but it is as sweet as. The aching “Stones in My Mouth” ends with a Springsteen refrain over a long twangy orchestral section that works magnificently well. Overall, it’s an emotionally strong, adept exploration of a new palette.

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