Bruce Springsteen, better known to fans as “the Boss” or “Bruuuuuuuce,” has always been the hero of the workingman. Even though he’s been elevated to godlike status, while receiving commercial and critical acclaim, he still comes off as a sort of blue-collar everyman. This is why, perhaps, Bruce is able to write about them so very well.
On Devils and Dust, Springsteen’s latest since 2002’s 9/11 tribute The Rising, delves into the psyches and the actions of the everyday man. Springsteen leaves the dynamic element of the E Street Band behind, choosing an acoustic feel that makes the songs that much more personal and rich, akin to albums like Nebraska and The Ghost of Tom Joad.
In Devils and Dust, however, there’s no real connecting thread like in the aforementioned albums, besides a general setting of the American Southwest. Thus, we have a sort of scattered look of America’s heroes and villains. The overtly sad and lonely “Reno” portrays a John whose hooker informs him of her price, “‘Two hundred dollars straight in / two-fifty up the ass’ she smiled and said.”
“Matamoros Banks” describes a Mexican immigrant in his last moments wandering through the desert towards the Rio Grande, wanting nothing more to feel the sweet embrace of his lover. “All the Way Home” could very well apply to Springsteen and his ill-fated Vote for Change tour, as we hear the Boss’ voice rise above the harmonicas and acoustic guitars saying “I know what it’s like to have failed baby / with the whole world lookin’ on.” However, the most powerful song is the title track. We see through the eyes of a soldier on the battlefields of a war, wondering why he must kill what he loves, and believing in God because it’s the only thought that keeps him alive. It’s a familiar tale, but hearing the words through Springsteen’s worn vocals lends a sort of authenticity and urgency that few singer/songwriters have mastered, and it’s one of the many things that makes Devils and Dust so special indeed.
[If Bradley Vargyas had any better taste in music… we’d have to kill him.]