Bruce Springsteen “Western Stars – Songs From The Film” (Columbia Records, 2019)

Bruce Springsteen’s 19th studio album, ‘Western Stars’, which came out this summer, has found its way on to many critics’ ‘best of the year’ lists, and quite rightly so – it’s one of his finest records. Influenced by the Southern California pop music of the late ’60s and ’70s – namely Glen Campbell and Burt Bacharach – the songs are lush and cinematic epics, with sweeping strings and Easy Listening horns, and are inhabited by a cast of lost and lonely characters, such as a faded cowboy movie star and a veteran stuntman.

It’s not quite up there with  ‘Nebraska’, his 1982, stripped-down, dark masterpiece – and it’s flawed – the awful, jaunty, sub-Mavericks Tex-Mex of ‘Sleepy Joe’s Café’ is a blemish on the album and completely kills the mood – but it’s the best thing he’s done in years.

Now, only a few months after its release, the Boss is back with a live version of the record, which is also the soundtrack to his directorial debut, ‘Western Stars’ – a concert film that sees him performing all of the songs in front of an audience, with a 30-piece orchestra, a full band, including his wife, Patti Scialfa, and backing singers, in a barn that’s almost 100 years old and is located on his ranch in Colts Neck, New Jersey.

It’s not the most atmospheric or inventive of live albums – essentially, the songs are faithful reproductions of their studio counterparts, but with a few bells and whistles, and Springsteen keeps the stage patter to a bare minimum – he introduces ‘Chasin’ Wild Horses’ and that’s it…

Sometimes the live arrangements are slightly more overblown and syrupy than they are on record and threaten to detract from the beauty of the songs – the outro of ‘The Wayfarer’ verges on jazz cabaret. The live version of ‘Sleepy Joe’s Café’ has more oomph, but it’s still a dud.

Springsteen and his ensemble run through the tracks in the same order as they are on ‘Western Stars’ – but, in a nice touch, the Boss doffs his (Stetson) hat to Glen Campbell by ending the set with a rousing cover version of his anthemic 1975 hit ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’, which was released in the same year as Springsteen’s seminal album ‘Born To Run.’

Unlike ‘Western Stars’, this is not one of the year’s essential purchases– it’s for completists and diehard fans – but if you’re stuck for a present for your Dad this Christmas, it could do the trick when Santa Claus is comin’ to town.

Lush and dramatic, but sometimes overbearing – stick with the studio version
7/10

Author: Sean Hannam

Freelance journalist, editor and presenter. Digs retro specs,The Smiths,Dylan,Cash,Richard Hawley, Scott Walker, Lee Hazlewood, country / Americana and '50s/'60s pop.

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