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Bruce Springsteen

The Ghost of Tom Joad

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By Lynne Margolis  
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At this stage of his career, Bruce Springsteen can do whatever he damn well pleases. It is quite likely that Columbia Records would have preferred that he not make an album comprised entirely of his intrepretations of traditional folk songs, particularly since the freshest tune on this collection ("My Oklahoma Home") was written more than 50 years ago and the oldest ("Froggie Went a Courtin’) was first published way back in 1549, some 427 years before the release of "Born to Run." But, hey, the Boss has put enough money into Columbia’s corporate pockets over the years to buy a little creative leeway. 

In this case, Springsteen’s desire was to pay homage to folk legend Pete Seeger by putting a personal spin on 13 folk classics Seeger has helped to popularize during the past 70 years. With the help of E Street Band violinist Soozie Tyrell, he assembled what is essentially a folk-music Big Band, a collective of musicians playing just about every conceivable folk instrument – accordian, fiddle, banjo, upright bass, washboard, horns, piano, harmonica, you name it. Springteen set them up in the livingroom of his New Jersey farmhouse and over the course of three live recording sessions produced a joyful album and companion DVD that make these old songs sound new again. 

Springsteen has called it "a carnival ride" of "street-corner music, parlor music, tavern music, wilderness music, circus music, church music, gutter music." It is surely all of that and more – ranging from rousing interpretations of "Old Dan Tucker," "Pay Me My Money Down," "Jacob’s Ladder" and "John Henry" to hymnlike remakes of tunes like "Eyes on the Prize," "Shenandoah" and best of all, "We Shall Overcome."

Veteran journalist Lynn Margolis writes about music from Austin, Texas. Her articles have appeared widely in such publications as The Austin American-Statesman, Texas Music, RollingStone.com, and the RIAA's Grammy magazine.