Alright, so, with the obvious, massive caveat that these are totally subject to change, and I've only heard each of these songs once ("Hello Sunshine" twice since it was the first one released), and that these are just first impressions... my FIRST IMPRESSIONS!! are:
(I'm basically just transcribing my as-i-was-listening notes)
1) HITCH HIKIN': This had a kinda softer sound than I expected, but more... abrasive(?) vocals. The vocals honestly hurt this one for me, I very quickly disliked them and after finishing the album they're still my least favorite anywhere on the record. Also, for stupid reasons, I can tend to react kinda negatively to when Bruce goes SUPER hard into, like, stereotypical-Springsteen-y total blue-collar-sound mode -- and this song is, like, that, 110%, right out of the gates. The soft instrumental stuff was nice, but not super impressive or interesting, and it didn't fit the vocals. The lyrics that I heard were just okay, though there's probably more to explore -- but this def didn't make a great first impression on me. After hearing "Hello Sunshine" and this, my concern was, like -- is this album just Bruce tossing in string arrangements because he *wants* to, and is it gonna play awkwardly as a result? Or does the album actually *earn* it? Eventually, the album came to earn it more.
2) THE WAYFARER: Right away, the basic little melody of the strings made them feel more purposeful. I liked the vocals riiight away, it was a more familiar cadence for him to be singing in that made it sound more authentic and like I was listening to The Rising or something else familiar. The line "same sad story" immediately reminded me of "One Step Up" which is of course a nice thing to be reminded of. Liked a little tiny guitar bit at the start of the chorus. Some of the bigger, more lush string parts still felt a little unearned -- tho when they went along with the drums it was nice -- but the little ones felt purposeful. Right as I was thinking this song felt a little more disjointed, it had some extra backing vocals and an organ, which just felt.. well, extra -- like kinda trying to replicate MCOR, obviously not getting there, and not being BAD, but just being a little awkward? Initial take: definitely better than Hitch Hikin', more fun, some parts felt more purposeful, but some felt a little disjointed. But it definitely at least had more replay value and made me curious how I'll feel about it on future listens.
Also as a random side, there was a melody on the strings here that kinda reminded me of "Easy Money", I'll need to see if that holds.
3) TUSCON TRAIN: Right away this reminded me of "Queen of the Supermarket"'s instrumentation, in a good way. The strings felt more purposeful here than in the previous two tracks, and I think that might be because it *started* with them, so it didn't feel abrupt, it introduced itself to me on that level. The vocals could have been a little better but the kinda echo-y reverb thing going on with them was a nice touch. On some lyric when he said "I left a good thing" there was an element I liked, no idea what this is referring to now, but I wrote it down at the time. Some of the lyrics seemed good here, which made me think of the obvious disclaimer that this has been promoted as a reaaally narrative-based, character-driven album and I was barely paying attention to the lyrics on this first pass so obv I'm missing a bunch. Overall this was better than HH, more purposeful/seamless than Wayfarer, but also was one of the first ones that I pretty much forgot.
4) WESTERN STARS: Immediately, this one felt... properly stated: the string stuff didn't feel overstated like on parts of Wayfarer, but it's not like it just lacked it outright and so avoided falling into a pitfall by not including it at all -- it was just the right amount. The percussion kicking in on the second verse was nice, that verse gave me "Racing in the Street" vibes actually, especially w/ the subject matter of the lyrics. Little piano bit that I liked somewhere around there. The song continued to develop at a nice pace -- grow, but grow naturally, not abruptly like parts of Wayfarer -- and soon I found myself not even minding how stereotypical some of the lyrics kinda felt. Then it started to truly give me the Glen Campbell vibes I was hoping for from this album -- it got huge and swelling on the last part but built up to it more naturally -- and I was sold. I mean I have said many times that I wish we had more big string stuff going on in popular songs these days, and this song finally did that in a way that felt earned. It sounded.. exactly how I was hoping for this title track to sound, actually? I was def impressed, enjoyed this one, and felt much, much better about the album here; each track was better than the one before it and this was by far the best up to this point.
5) SLEEPY JOE'S CAFE: Instantly wrote "haha wow this song is decidedly less sleepy than expected." I was very surprised. As another little aside, for some reason I kinda feel like Weird Al could parody this song, the melody fits him and even some of the lyrical structure. Anyways, this was a very fun song -- plus -- ACCORDION! Nice!
6) DRIVE FAST (THE STUNTMAN): Very, very immediately loved the first lyrics. After that "Drive fast, fall hard" is a great line that took it in a direction I wasn't totally expecting -- like I knew the song was gonna take a dark turn but didn't think it'd be that kinda gradual, philosophical one. For the first track or two, I might have expected the orchestration to undercut a song like this, but it ultimately didn't at all. I loved the titular line, I really dug a little line about making the broken pieces fit, and then the piano part was beauuuutiful and simultaneously reminded me of some other song I couldn't place while also SOUNDING totally new as a Bruce sound in itself. Overall this was definitely a big favorite.
7) CHASIN' WILD HORSES: My focus kinda faded here because I was walking home on like 1% battery worried I wouldn't get through the end of the song, so I need to relisten, but it sounded further Glen Campbell-y and olidly adequate. It exceeded my expectations from the title/length. And I paused for a little after this song and found its chorus staying with me a little bit.
8) SUNDOWN - I paused before this one for a little bit, so right away it hit me with this power that I dug. Had a nice sound, had the right amount of grandure and power and scale without feeling like Too Much. Lyrics seemed like they could be strong on a further listen. As it went along I just reaaaaally loved the way this song had this big power to it while still not overdoing it, that was my fav thing about it, it felt very natural, and it sounded kinad like hwat WOAD should've been only with more going on instrumentally. Pretty soon felt like while this probably won't be my #1 favorite ultimately, upon repeated listens, it might be my favorite of the first listen.
9) SOMEWHERE NORTH OF NASHVILLE - This is alright. Not as good as I hoped for, not as forgettable as I feared.
10) STONES - I dug some of the lyrics and imagery, like Sundown it felt more natural than some of the earliest songs, had some nicemelodies.
11) THERE GOES MY MIRACLE - Not a ton done wrong or especailly right on this one; it was adequate. Works as a summer song. I expected more from the title, I think, but it wasn't bad.
12) HELLO SUNSHINE - Had heard this one before, and my first thought at the time was that I liked it, there was nothing wrong with it, but I wasn't fully sold on the string approach for the album or whether it added much, and I still kind of feel like that; however, it also doesnt' sound as disjointed as like The Wayfarer, it still blends in more or less, and I like the autobiographical lyric about going down emptry streets. It's an interesting pick as a lead single, since there's so many more standout songs on the album, yet it's also fairly representative and stands alone so I guess it makes sense.
13) MOONLIGHT MOTEL - I didn't put any notes for this one; fuck! I mostly remember thinking it was a nice enough slow, stripped-down closing track, which is the kind of Bruce song that could totally grow on me over time perhaps, but this one's not quite there yet, but I was okay with it.
FIRST IMPRESSION RANKING:
2) Western Stars
3) Drive Fast (The Stuntman)
4) Sleepy Joe's Cafe
6) Hello Sunshine
7) Chasin' Wild Horses
8) There Goes My Miracle
9) Moonlight Motel
10) Tuscon Train
11) The Wayfarer
12) Somewhere North of Nashville
13) Hitch Hikin'