Monday, February 8, 2016

Ranking The Albums: Bruce Springsteen (15 - 11)



He meekly crawled onto the scene in 1973 with an album that received little fanfare. He would journey forward to become one of the most famous musicians in the history of rock and roll. What has been left behind so far is a body of work that not many artists can achieve. And the brilliance of all these records is what makes it such a challenge to rank them all.


As of this writing, Bruce Springsteen has released 18 official albums, both as a solo artist and with the E-Street Band. I could have decided not to include his solo work in this project, but felt it was best to be all inclusive. For obvious reasons, live albums and hits collections are not included when ranking an artist’s albums.


You can find 18 - 16 here: 
http://rockandrollguru.blogspot.com/2016/02/ranking-albums-bruce-springsteen-18-16.html

Here are albums 15 - 11 

15. Working On A Dream  


Working On A Dream is another album that suffers from the timing of when it was created. Throughout his career, Springsteen has a habit of releasing an album that pales in comparison to the previous release. Born In The USA was followed by Tunnel Of Love. The River was followed by Nebraska. And Working On A Dream came after Magic. And while it is never fair to compare a current record to the previous release, it is human nature to do just that. Working On A Dream is a solid record, but had there been more time before its release, it may have been a different record. That being said, the album still contains fantastic gems. “My Lucky Day,” “Working On A Dream,” “Life Itself,” and “Kingdom Of Days” are all amazing songs that could be on any greatest hits compilation. The problem is that the remaining 9 songs are average, at best, and one (“Queen Of The Supermarket”) is just terrible. However, this album proves that even average Bruce Springsteen is still pretty damn good music.

14. We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions 


While I frown on almost every cover album ever recorded, I actually embrace the one that Springsteen released. This is due to the fact that he went down an entirely different path and did it with brilliance. Not that anything less would be expected when it comes to Bruce Springsteen. The Seeger Sessions is an album that was recorded in two days over the course of two years (2005 and 2006). Bruce rounded up a bunch of lesser known musicians and after two recording sessions had We Shall Overcome completed. Loose and lighthearted, We Shall Overcome is unlike any other Bruce Springsteen album because it is not a true Bruce record. It is an album of cover songs recorded by Bruce and a band. What makes it so grand however, is the life that Bruce breathes into these old folk songs. He takes simple, bare songs and adds multiple layers, thus creating new versions of timeless classics that are every bit as good as the originals, and in some cases even better. And while another album of original music would have been preferred, We Shall Overcome is a testament to the variety of styles that this master can create, cover, and perform.

13. Nebraska 


Nebraska is certainly the most unique album in the Bruce Springsteen catalog. After The River, Bruce began work on rough demos for the next E-Street Band record. He ended up keeping them for himself and released an acoustic beauty in Nebraska. This album was supposed to be the demos for Born In The USA, but instead, Springsteen took a chance and released the demos as is. And while fans at the time didn’t understand it, in hindsight the move was brilliant. Stripped away of everything except a guitar and a harmonica, the lyrics get to shine as the star of this record. Nebraska is a record filled with dark tales of desperate people doing heinous things. The title track is the recounting of a murder spree by a man sentenced to death. “Johnny 99” and “Atlantic City” paint the picture of people who have no choice but to commit crimes in order to survive. “Highway Patrolman” is a tale of a law enforcement officer deciding if his brother should get away with a crime. For all its darkened tones, Springsteen did end the album on a ray of hope with one of the best songs he has ever written. “Reason To Believe” is a song about never giving up and always finding a way to look ahead to better tomorrows. After so much darkness, this ray of light is a welcome way to end Nebraska.

12. Lucky Town 


In 1992 Bruce Springsteen released two albums without the E-Street Band.  A tour minus E-street followed which disappointed many fans. Not that their disappointment reflected in ticket or album sales (both sold very well). Lucky Town was the album recorded after Human Touch, but it is the album that most fans seem to prefer out of the two. I fall into the opposite camp. And while it’s a terrific album, it lacks the dedication of Human Touch. Lucky Town is filled with ten wonderful songs. “Better Days,” the title track “Lucky Town,” and “Local Hero” are a terrific hard rocking three punch open to a record filled with greatness. Springsteen was in a reflective period of his life and it shows throughout Lucky Town. In his early forties during the recording of the album, Springsteen had a lot to say about his life. On both Lucky Town and Human Touch he picks apart what he’s done and tries to make sense of it all and perhaps even give himself some justification. The end result is a fine piece of rock work that I wish the band would focus on more in concert. There are some true gems on Lucky Town that need to be played live more often.

11. Greetings From Asbury Park NJ 


When it was first released in 1973, Greetings From Asbury Park NJ didn’t conjure up much reaction. There were plenty of comparisons to Bob Dylan, and the album may have received one or two favorable reviews, but overall, no one knew who Bruce Springsteen was. Fortunately, this record has had the benefit of 40 years worth of live performances that sparked people’s interest.  Greetings From Asbury Park is unique in that it contains some of Bruce’s best songs and one of his absolute worst (although a lot of fans may disagree). “Mary, Queen of Arkansas” is about as unlistenable a song as I’ve ever heard. It’s just horrendous. “The Angel” is another song that is far from great and shows that early Springsteen was still finding his voice and style. Thankfully, the rest of Greetings… is magnificent. Brilliant compositions like “Lost In The Flood,” “Spirit In The Night,” and the masterpiece “Blinded By The Light” fill this record with beauty. And while it falls just short of entering the top ten, Greetings is still an amazing album. 

Up Next: Albums 10 - 6 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

B.B. King American Masters Premiere Friday, February 12th


The American Masters documentary on B.B. King will premiere on Friday, February 12th at 9pm. Definitely worth checking out!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Ranking The Albums: Bruce Springsteen (18 - 16)



He meekly crawled onto the scene in 1973 with an album that received little fanfare. He would journey forward to become one of the most famous musicians in the history of rock and roll. What has been left behind so far is a body of work that not many artists can achieve. And the brilliance of all these records is what makes it such a challenge to rank them all.

And let’s be honest, after number 17, almost every album is equal until we get to number 5. That’s what makes this project so difficult yet so exciting. How do you rank such fantastic pieces of work? It’s like ranking Monet’s paintings or Michelangelo’s work. It is very hard to create a ranking list when almost everything on it is a masterpiece. Fortunately I am up for the challenge.

As of this writing, Bruce Springsteen has released 18 official albums, both as a solo artist and with the E-Street Band. I could have decided not to include his solo work in this project, but felt it was best to be all inclusive. For obvious reasons, live albums and hits collections are not included when ranking an artist’s albums. 

Here are albums 18 through 16: 

18 - The Ghost Of Tom Joad 
 

No one can argue that The Ghost of Tom Joad is the worst album in the entire Springsteen discography. And unlike other albums that will be mentioned later on, there is no saving this album by explaining it was an experiment or a time that Springsteen was going through. The Ghost of Tom Joad is just a bad album. If not for the completeist in me, I wouldn’t even own this album. There are 3 decent songs on the entire record (“The Ghost Of Tom Joad,” “Youngstown,” “Across The Border”), and two of them are incredible when performed live, because the arrangements have been redone. The rest of the record is just terrible. The songs are slow with nothing but an acoustic guitar backing them. And the guitar work barely has any movement. It’s all chords strumming to make a song. Clearly, The Ghost of Tom Joad suffers from no E-Street band and no direction. Every band with a storied career is entitled to one bomb and this album is Springsteen’s. And yes, he does get a pass for it.

 17 - High Hopes 

It is understandable that High Hopes would rank so low; it was a collection of leftover songs that Bruce threw together and called an album. There is a reason that some songs never appear on a record and High Hopes has a few examples of this. But it also has a few moments of brilliance and it is those brilliant moments that save it from being horrendous. The highlight of the album is the studio version of “American Skin (41 Shots).” This was a song that Springsteen had only released on a live record (Live In New York City) and hearing a proper studio version was an absolute treat. “High Hopes” is another terrific song that helps pull the album together. Written by Tim Scott McConnell, Springsteen put together a terrific version of this contemporary rocker. Overall, High Hopes suffers from a lack of cohesion, but there are moments that shine. It’s those moments that make the difference. 

16 - Tunnel Of Love 

Tunnel Of Love is an album that lacks polish. The record released prior to this was Born In The U.S.A., so perhaps Bruce felt it was time to mix it up. He went from one of his most iconic, stadium anthem, rock records, to a stripped down, softer album that was heavy on keys and low on leads. He also broke up the band after this record and tour. And while it is not a terrible album, Tunnel Of Love is one of the low points in Bruce’s career. The album does contain one of the most underrated and all but forgotten Springsteen gems in “Spare Parts.” It’s a hard rocking song that nostalgically called back to themes he wrote about in the 70s, but this time with a female protagonist. I’ve always felt that “Spare Parts” never got the attention it deserved. And without actually double checking, I believe it has the least number of live performances out of any Springsteen song. And that is a true shame. There are other solid songs on Tunnel Of Love as well including “Tougher Than The Rest,” and “Brilliant Disguise.” But these are paired with clunkers such as “Cautious Man,” and “Valentine’s Day.” With a little more focus and direction Tunnel Of Love could have been a much better album. 

Up next --- albums 15 - 11.