I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advance copy of the audio tracks of Springsteen’s Devils and Dust this evening. It is impossible to be definitive on a first listen (okay, it was two back-to-back). Still, there is no doubt true Springsteen fans will love it. Whether it will appeal to a larger audience on its release next week is another question.
Reviews will refer to The Ghost of Tom Joad (Springsteen’s last solo work) or Nebraska (his first). There will be references to Dylan and perhaps even Hank Williams or Johnny Cash. This is almost countryfied Springsteen. Yet saying it has a sparse, somewhat southwestern tinge is too broad just as comparison to specific artists or a prior album is too narrow.
This is Springsteen exploring the roots of American music. While some (but not all) of it would work well with the E Street Band, this is the type of music friends sit and play together on the porch or in the living room or a church basement. It is also songwriter as storyteller, telling of the lives of soldiers (the title track), fathers (“Long Time Comin'”), boxers (“The Hitter”), and even Jesus Christ (“Jesus Was An Only Son”). Those things make this timeless music. In that context, whether it has mass appeal may be irrelevant.
Fear is a powerful thing
It can turn your heart black you can trust
It’ll take your God-filled soul
Fill it with devils and dust