The Ghost of Tom Joad, in the same vein. Yet, it's not all dusty, old material, as, again continuing from Joad, this is an album in the protest vein.
Kind of amusing to me, realizing just now that there is exactly one decade between the two releases. It's also funny, as I sit here looking at the track list, that it's really not as much of a protest record as I remember. There's definitely protest songs here, but the overall feel is much more of storytelling. Kind of along the lines of Nebraska, but, let's be honest, not as good.
The opening, title track is definitely a protest song. Throwing us into the shoes of a soldier in, one assumes, Iraq. Again, the real strength here isn't the political, it's the personal. Springsteen says nothing about the buildup of the war, or the misleading WMD reasoning, but asks us to envision what it's like to be a soldier in combat. The sacrifices that must be made, and the personal beliefs that are challenged, and often put aside, when it becomes a matter of survival.
Generally speaking, the recurring theme is people who've reached a point of decision, or crisis. In all of these songs, we see people place in situations where they must make a choice that will change them forever. Be it, the young man in Black Cowboys, leaving his drug-addled mother to try to make a better life, inspired by the western movies playing on TV, or The Hitter, finally coming to the last place he thinks he might find solace or acceptance, at his mother's locked door.
The one, true, honest-to-God Tom Joad sequel is Matamoros Banks, which Springsteen has called a direct sequel to Joad's Across the Border. One with a less than happy ending. He would play these two together on most nights of the Devils & Dust tour. (I'll get to that in a bit here.)
The one true classic song that most fans have embraced from the album is Long Time Comin', which tells of a man finally coming into the world of being a father. I completely agree that this is likely the strongest song on the album. It's a relatively simple song, but it's so much fun to play. The lyric is also powerful in a deceptively simple manner. When It comes around to the line "I ain't gonna fuck it up this time," I feel that, even as simply a man and a husband. I also love that he took to singing the line as "I hope I don't fuck it up this time" on tour, reflecting the uncertainty of life. (Of course, Bruce said he felt it just made him sound cocky, LOL)
I'm also a HUGE fan of Jesus Was an Only Son, which places Jesus, in his final minutes, and Mary in the context of simply a mother and child. This is one of those songs that reminds me of the power of the Christ story. I'm not an overly religious person, but the idea that Jesus was human, he felt pain and fear, he had a mother, it connects me to the sacrifice in a much more personal way. It's why I've always been perplexed by the reactions to The Last Temptation of Christ, both as a novel and film. There's something about connecting Jesus to the rest of humanity as a man, with all the strengths and weaknesses that comes along with that, that makes him a greater figure to me.
There are several gems on the album, just rattling off some favorites, there's Reno, which walks the line between what we try to call love, and what it actually is. Maria's Bed, which is just a fun song, no other way to put it. Of course, both of those songs, I wonder if their "Maria" is connected to the "Maria" of Tom Joad's The Line. I also really enjoy Leah.
One of the more interesting things about the Devils & Dust release was the only time, so far, that Springsteen has released a "value added" DualDisc. Essentially, the dick was a "flipper," with one side being the regular CD of the album, and the opposite side being a DVD, with video content, and a 5.1 Surround Sound version of the album, as well. The Video content is described on the Springsteen website as follows;
Devils & Dust (Columbia Records) has been released exclusively in DualDisc format, with the full album on CD on one side of the disc and DVD content on the other side. The DVD side will feature the first live performances of Devils & Dust material. Filmmaker/photographer Danny Clinch captured new, acoustic renditions of "Devils & Dust," "Long Time Comin'," "Reno," All I'm Thinkin' About," and "Matamoras Banks," each with Springsteen's extensive, personal introductions. The performances were filmed in New Jersey in February 2005. The DVD side will also contain the entire album mixed in 5.1 channel surround sound and in stereo.
Now, I've listened to this album quite a lot. I think I've watched the video stuff once. So, y'know...whatever you want to take from that.
One thing I do have to say as a bit of a coda to this entry is to talk about the Devils & Dust tour, which I can only really describe as a religious experience. Springsteen toured solo, much like after The Ghost of Tom Joad, but the schedule was much broader and hit a lot more cities. It also seemed, from reports (as I, personally, never saw the Joad tour), that Springsteen was simply enjoying himself a lot more. Watching the man essay his entire carreer, up to that point, on acoustic guitar, as well as some keyboards, was really, really special.
I saw the show twice. Once at The Rosemont Theatre in Rosemont, IL, and then again at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, WI. The Rosemont show was far more intimate, but the Bradley Center was just a setlist to die for. He ended the show with Growin' Up (my favorite Springsteen song, ever) right into Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street? which is another all-time favorite. He also managed to do pretty much all of Nebraska that night. I'll treasure those evenings.
I really don't think I'll ever forget how he re-cast Reason to Believe into a foot-stompin' harmonica number
Not the best quality, I know...but that song gave me chills.