Springsteen explores covers, leftovers
Bruce Springsteen, "High Hopes" (Columbia)
Bruce Springsteen albums are most often well-constructed, cohesive statements, but "High Hopes" is something different — a collection of covers and leftovers from the last decade or so.
As such, it feels like a musical tag sale, albeit one in a very nice neighborhood. Springsteen credits Tom Morello as his muse here, and his snarling, squealing guitar does more than anything to tie everything together. Their duet on a ferocious version of the two decades-old song, "The Ghost of Tom Joad," is clearly the album's high point.
Another song familiar to fans, "American Skin (41 Shots)," feels bloated and dated, not helped that a decade's worth of news has made the incident that inspired it recede from the mind.
The success of a tag sale depends largely on individual taste, of course. We're partial to some of the exuberant pop songs here: the title cut and "Just Like Fire Would" are both obscure cover songs. Springsteen's own "Frankie Fell in Love" is a lark with funny lyrics. They will remind fans of the treasure trove of unreleased material recorded before "Darkness on the Edge of Town," much of it so good that when it finally saw the light of day you wondered what he'd been thinking to keep it hidden so long.
Some of the material on this disc was originally set aside for good reason, but Springsteen's loyal audience will find things to enjoy. It's best not to come in with hopes too high. AP
Rosanne Cash explores her Southern roots
Rosanne Cash, "The River & The Thread" (Blue Note)
The songs on "The River & The Thread" rock like a cradle, and the rhythm rings true while Rosanne Cash explores her roots.
The mesmerizing musical journey takes her to Arkansas, the Mississippi Delta and the Gulf Coast as Cash encounters the ghosts of Robert Johnson, Emmett Till, a.m. radio and her Civil War ancestors. There's also the repeated tug of Memphis, where Cash was born around the time her father cut his first record.
This Southern music stretches far beyond the confines of country — those are violins on "Night School," not fiddles. The 11 songs blend Tennessee flattop twang with gospel, the blues, and even hints of jazz while building a bridge from Dust Bowl ballads to Dusty Springfield pop.
Covering so much territory takes time, but Cash makes it well worthwhile. In these days of downloads, "The River" offers an eloquent argument for albums. Her husband and producer, John Leventhal, pulls it all together and ensures the set's considerable ambitions don't overwhelm the immaculate arrangements. There's no hot pickin' here; instead, Cash's marvelous material is the star as she shares her story of rediscovery. AP