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NEW ALBUM: Western Stars - June 14


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On 6/23/2019 at 6:42 AM, BossFan4Life said:

Hello Friends,:)

I haven't been a regular poster now for several years. A couple different life changes have moved me into a place, emotionally,  where I haven't really felt a need to share a lot of my thoughts & feelings with anyone. I've been content to lurk & read & enjoy what others are discussing without feeling pressed to add anything personally.

However, the release of "Western Stars" & the wonderful conversation it has generated have motivated me enough to chime in. Though I won't pretend that any of my thoughts are going to add anything that hasn't already been said, I do at least feel like I should share them, so here goes...

I hadn't heard a whole lot of advance news about this release. Pretty much what I did hear didn't hype me up too much. About the only thing I'd heard was "70's sound, lots of stings" & some comparisons to Glen Campbell. So, I wasn't overly thrilled. Somewhat ambivalent, but curious, & willing to listen. 

After receiving the album last Friday I was eager to experience it, & got my first chance on a long drive back home Sunday night. Right off the bat, I was very intrigued. I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, but whatever it was, I was surprised, pleasantly, by what I got. I knew right away this was an album that I wanted to give more than a cursory listen to. I really wanted to sit down & listen to it. Really experience it. So that night after I got home, & everyone turned in, I sat down with the headphones (which I highly recommend) & gave it a careful listen beginning to end (which I also highly recommend).

I decided at that point I really wanted to live with this album a little bit. Let it breathe, & give it several more listens, before I shared my thoughts. Over the course of the last week I've listened both to the whole album & individual tracks multiple times, while gathering my thoughts.

First, let me say that I REALLY think this album rewards careful listening. I don’t think it lends itself, at least initially, to a casual listening experience. Only after really sitting down & digesting it do I feel like I’m more prepared to listen to it in a casual way.

I find it very complex. From the lyrics, to the vocals, to the musical arrangement, in my opinion there's a lot going on here. I found it to be worthy of meditation & reflection on. I found myself thinking about it quite a bit over the last week, even when I WASN'T listening to it, ruminating on the lyrics, the melodies, the arrangements, the sequencing, all of it. I found myself humming or singing parts of, or thinking about the melody of, different songs, which is probably about the highest praise i can give.

This is an album I've found to be exceptionally well constructed, or more appropriately crafted. Many of you have commented on how this album is a complete package. That it all fits together perfectly. That Bruce has to have put a lot of thought into all aspects of it, all the way down to the sequencing. This was my experience as well. That is what I heard when I listened.

I was more excited before the release of "High Hopes" than this one, yet I found "Western Stars" more satisfying. I liked "High Hopes" well enough, in part, but not as a whole. It felt uneven & slightly disorganized. Parts I liked, parts I didn't. With "Western Stars" it feels like a VERY coherent whole, & even the few songs I don't like as well as some of the others I still think FIT in the context of the whole, & think it would be less without them.

With all of that said, let me go from generalities to some specifics

1) "Hitch Hikin' " - This song, maybe more than any other on the album, makes me think that Bruce REALLY put a lot of thought & effort into his phrasing & vocal performance/delivery. This is the first Springsteen album I've listened to where I've been consciously aware of not just him singing, but HOW he's singing. HOW he’s using his voice. I was stricken with the thought that this is the first album of his that it seemed to me that he was purposely trying to use his voice as an INSTRUMENT.

Now, this isn't to say he doesn't or hasn't in his previous work, so please don't take it that way. But this is the first time I've been, FORCEFULLY, stricken with that thought. Up until now I've always been used to Bruce Springsteen singing like, well, Bruce Springsteen! On "Western Stars" it's still unmistakably Bruce, but at the same time, different. It might be due to the musical style? The effort that goes into the arrangements? Whatever the case, it sounds to my ear like that he's very deliberately using his voice in a specific way to reflect the characters & musical styles differently in each song.

The reason that "Hitch Hikin' " caused me to arrive at this conclusion (especially in comparison to the rest of the album) is that Bruce's vocal on this has a very pure, child-like delivery. He belts it out much the way a small child sings. His vocal, coupled with a very light, melodic, sing-song-y musical arrangement, plus the lyrics themselves, speaks of a wide-eyed optimism & innocence that is fitting for them opening of the album, & the musical journey it takes you on.  It's not my favorite song on the album, but it's perfectly fitting as the album opener.

2) "The Wayfarer" - Not a lot to say about this one. I like it. Musically, it offers the first glimpse of what I had kinda expected with the string arrangements, in a good way. Vocally, you can hear it on the lines "Where are you noooow?" & the back-up singers that repeat back on the outro "I'm a Wayfarer baby (Wayfarer Baby…)" really sell that groovy 70’s sound.

3) "Tucson Train" - I like this one a lot. One of the strongest tracks on the album. To my ear, this song is the most "Springsteen sounding" of any in this collection. I could see this one getting the full band treatment on future tours. Great lyrics. Many have noted the "fought hard over nothin" line. A neat little touch musically is the rhythmic sound of a train on the intro & outro as well.

4) "Western Stars" - One of the greatest tracks on the album. Might be my favorite. This is the 2nd one that grabbed me in a BIG way (I'll get to the first later). To examine the brilliance of this song, I need to dissect it:

I wake up in the morning, just glad my boots are on
Instead of empty in the whispering grasses
Down the Five at Forest Lawn

On the set, the makeup girl brings me two raw eggs and a shot of gin
Then I give it all up for that little blue pill
That promises to bring it all back to you again

(Nothing of my own to note yet, pretty straight forward. The meanings of the waking up w/ boots on, down the Five at Forrest Lawn, on the set w/ that "little blue pill" have already been discussed).

 Ride me down easy, ride me down easy, friend
Tonight the western stars are shining bright again

(Bruce's delivery of the chorus here is so soft & tender. Heartbreaking).

 Here in the canyons above Sunset, the desert don't give up the fight
A coyote with someone's Chihuahua in its teeth skitters 'cross my veranda in the night

Some lost sheep from Oklahoma sips her Mojito down at the Whiskey Bar
Smiles and says she thinks she remembers me from that commercial with the credit card

 (The desert line will reveal more relevance later. I find some interesting things in these couple verses, beyond the "shock value" of the coyote with the Chihuahua in its' teeth. First is the wild, untamed creature that enters into civilization & snatches up the defenseless, innocent Chihuahua, in some ways itself a symbol of the that same civilization.

 This is interesting to me juxtaposed with the "lost sheep" (another innocent) sipping a Mojito at the Whiskey Bar with our protagonist, who perhaps fills the role of the coyote, not that he means her harm, but the wild & free aspects of his nature. I suspect the Narrator shares a certain kinship with that coyote as a wild, free, creature of the desert, at least in his youth.)

 Hell, these days there ain't no more, now there's just again
Tonight the western stars are shining bright again

 (Again, the sorrowful delivery here is just heartbreaking. The soft, measured pace as our narrator relates to us these snapshots from the waning days of his life).

 (Now, note here that the tempo of the song picks up...)

 Sundays I take my El Camino, throw my saddle in and go
East to the desert where the charros, they still ride and rope

Our American brothers cross the wire and bring the old ways with them
Tonight the western stars are shining bright again

 (Here the music swells into a beautiful, cinematic string arrangement: I can see the charros on horseback galloping on horseback in slow motion across a big screen. I find it interesting here how as the tempo of the song increases on these verses, Bruce's voice gets stronger & more powerful as he returns to his place of rejuvenation & renewal, the desert, to reconnect with his spiritual brothers the charros, riding & roping).

 Once I was shot by John Wayne, yeah, it was towards the end
That one scene's bought me a thousand drinks
Set me up and I'll tell it for you, friend

 (Again, The Actor's voice has settled into that soft monotone, only accompanied by the guitar once more, as he relates to us another anecdote from his everyday life).

 Here's to the cowboys, and the riders in the whirlwind
Tonight the western stars are shining bright again
And the western stars are shining bright again 

 (Here the tempo has begun to build again as The Actor toasts to his heroes, the cowboys, & remembers that source of inspiration.

 Tonight the riders on Sunset are smothered in the Santa Ana winds
And the western stars are shining bright again

C'mon and ride me down easy, ride me down easy, friend
'Cause tonight the western stars are shining bright again

 (Here the music has again exploded into cinematic brilliance. Bruce's voice is full & powerful. At first, I was puzzled by this. "Smothered in the Santa Ana winds"? The Santa Ana winds, sometimes called "devil winds" are typically portrayed as ill winds. Hot & dry, bringing the threat of wildfires. Raymond Chandler writes of them: "There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch."

 That's when it hit me: THE RIDERS ON SUNSET are smothering, NOT our protagonist: he is again revived by that connection to his sacred place by the desert winds blowing in lifting his spirits.)

 I woke up this morning just glad my boots were on.

 (A repeat of the 1st line with a slight variation, he woke up THIS morning, & he's still glad he's alive, despite the depressing incidents from his daily life that he's relayed to us: despite the fading of his youth, his fame, his virility, he can still find good things in life, still reconnect with the mythical desert, still be inspired by the cowboys : the western stars are shining bright again...

 That's why I ultimately find this song so moving & uplifting. Despite the seemingly downbeat nature of the lyrics I see it as being positive. It’s about growing older, but still finding strength & comfort from the places & things you love.

 I puzzled a bit over the line "Ride Me Down Easy". I suspect it's a callback to a song (of the same name) by Waylon Jennings, written by Billy Joe Shaver:

"Ride me down easy Lord, ride me on down
Leave word in the dust where I lay
Say I'm easy come, easy go
And easy to love when I stay"

Looking for definitions of "ride me down" I found one possible one under the definition of "ride down":

to exhaust (a horse, etc.) by riding too long or too hard

In this context, "Ride Me Down Easy" could almost be seen as a prayer (to God) saying "hey, take it easy on me, huh?"

I also have thought a lot about the symbolism of the "Western Stars", beyond the obvious allusion to western movie stars, or the stars in the sky. I've seen the Tennyson connection, which is certainly food for thought. Western author Zane Grey wrote a novel "The Light of the Western Stars" which was also made into a 1940 movie of the same name.

Finally, one final neat touch is how the “clacking” of a tambourine on the outro sounds like the jingling of a cowboy’s spurs as he walks away…

 5) “Sleepy Joe’s Café” – Not a lot to say here. I like this one. On a dark album like this you need a peppy little upbeat number to keep it from being TOO relentlessly depressing. A few observations on the lyrics:

 “I drive on down from the big town Friday when the clock strikes five” makes me think of “look over yonder see them city lights” from “Ramrod” for some reason.

 “Summer girls in the parking lot slap on their makeup and they flirt the night away” Girls in Their Summer Clothes?

 “I come through the door and feel the workweek slip away” makes me think of “When I’m out in the street, I walk the way I wanna walk” from “Out in The Street”.

 6)"Drive Fast (The Stuntman)” – Not one of my favorites per se, but I do find some of the lyrics illuminating:

“At nine, I climbed high into the boughs of our neighborhood's tallest tree
I don't remember the fear, just the breeze”

“At nineteen, I was the king of the dirt down at the Remington draw”

“We met on the set of this B picture that she made
She liked her guys a little greasy and 'neath her pay grade”

I suspect this is one of the more personal/autobiographical songs on the album. In my opinion Bruce has cast himself in the part of The Stuntman. Substitute being a rock star for being a stuntman, & you’re pretty much there. The lines about pins, steel rods, & scars could even be allusions to the toll being such a physical performer all these years has taken on him. And of course, the “Drive Fast” could reference his own restless nature.

 7) “Chasin’ Wild Horses” – This was the first song on the album that grabbed me hard & wouldn’t let go. I still love it quite a bit. It doesn’t seem as well regarded as most on the album by most of you. I suspect the resemblance in the opening line to “Your Own Worst Enemy” may play a part in that. I didn’t even notice it until I saw it pointed out. I hear it now, but it doesn’t bother me. The lyrics are nothing overly special compared to others on the album, but I like the story they tell.

What makes this song stand out for me is the phrasing of the vocals & the STUNNING arrangement.

First, these verses, delivered in a static monotone:

“We're out before sunup
In after sundown
There's two men in the chopper
Two under saddle on the ground
In the evenings we'd hop in the pickup
Head into town for a drink
I make sure I work 'til I'm so damn tired
Way too tired to think”

(Long pause…. then…BOOM! The music picks up…)

“You lose track of time

(The delivery there is just great).

It's all just storms blowin' through
You come rollin' 'cross my mind
Your hair flashin' in the blue
Like wild horses, just like wild horses
Just like wild horses”

(2:17 & the stings surge & swell to life in all their cinematic glory. Underneath the stirring string arrangement, a banjo picks out an accompanying tune. Again, I picture wild horses running in slo-mo across the plains on a big screen accompanied by this music).

 (Again, the somber, measured delivery…)

“A fingernail moon in a twilight sky
I'm ridin' in the high grass of the switchback
I shout your name into the canyon
The echo throws it back”

(again, long pause…I swear I can hear Bruce breathing here…then BOOM!)

“The winter snow whites out the plains
'Til it can turn you blind
The only thing up here I've found
Is tryin' to get you off mind
Is like chasin' wild horses, chasin' wild horses
Chasin' wild horses, chasin' wild horses”

(3:40, the arrangement surges, 4:02 a wonderful French horn enters, sounding like a trumpet, essaying the same tune as the banjo earlier).

Then the music fades into a perfect outro & an equally perfect intro into…

8) “Sundown” – The seamless transition out of “Horses” into “Sundown” is just sublime. Even though I’ve listened to “Horses” plenty on its own as a standalone track, ideally, I would prefer to listen to both together. Much like I don’t want to hear “We Will Rock You” UNLESS “We Are the Champions” follows. The way it picks up musically after the downbeat “Horses” also makes it a perfect accompaniment.

I can also see the same character from “Horses” being the same one in “Sundown”. It feels like a continuation of the same story.

Also love the way Bruce belts out that final “Come Sundowwwwn!”

9) “Somewhere North of Nashville” – Not a lot to say. Great song. Great lyrics. The most “country” cut on the record, but that doesn’t bother me. I like it. It has a very different SOUND than the rest of the record. It sounds very empty & sparse, as is fitting. But I mean it has a literal different sound. As in, there’s a feeling of emptiness, of space, where & how the song was recorded. I would almost swear it was recorded in the same bedroom of a rented house in Colts Neck, NJ as “Nebraska”, on that same Teac Tascam 144 Portastudio.

10) “Stones” – Probably my least favorite song on the album. Great songwriting, but the music AND the vocal don’t do much for me.

11) “There Goes My Miracle” – The most “70’s West Coast Pop” sounding track on the disk. Lyrically simple, but very catchy. I love the way Bruce croons the chorus “There Goes My Miiirrraacleee…”

The repetition of the “Look What You’ve Done” with the echoing repeat back really gives it that swinging 70’s feel as well.

I could see this one being sung by Andy Williams, Pat Boone, Tom Jones, etc. Very Burt Bacharach  arrangement.

12) “Hello Sunshine” – Again, another very personal song for Bruce, obviously. One that I relate to on a personal level as well, as someone who lives with Depression myself. I’ve “had a little sweet spot for the rain”, been “a little too fond of the blues”, & “fell in love with lonely” & have now ended up that way, so this one really speaks to me. Musically, it’s catchy. I like how the rhythm & cadence of it sound like a horse galloping along…

13) “Moonlight Motel” – I can’t say a lot about this one that all of you haven’t already said. It’s brilliant. One of the best on the album. Fantastic songwriting. The observation that one of you made re; The Screen Door as a callback to Thunder Road Mary made my jaw drop.

The “Last Night I Dreamed” section also reminded me of “Down Bound Train". Also “My Fathers House” as well. Both of them, as well as this song, feature the protagonist leaping up in the dark from their disturbed slumber to go & revisit the place that haunts them. Bruce has spoken of similar nocturnal ramblings for the same reasons as well, so again, a little bit of autobiography sneaks in here as well.

So, there you have it. I’ve seen a fair amount of discussion of it being a “masterpiece”. I think it is. I’ve also seen some conversation on being a masterpiece vs. earlier albums like “BTR” or “Darkness”. Is it as great? No, I’d say not. But that doesn’t mean it still can’t be a masterpiece in its own, distinct, different way.

One of the things that is striking to me about it is that it sounds so different than anything else Bruce has done. Sure, it shares some similarity with albums like “WOAD” or “D&D”, but it’s almost like those albums were warm-up’s leading to this.

It’s amazing to me that a 69-year-old, with 18 previous studio albums, almost 50 years as a recording artist, etc., etc., released something this musically adventurous. And I’ve come to realize, why shouldn’t he, if that what he wants to do & enjoys doing it? For a long time, I wished that he’d do “one last big rock record”. Now I ask myself “why”? He already made “BTR”, “Darkness”, “The River”, “BITUSA”, why go back & make them over & over again? He already made those records. Da Vinci didn’t keep trying to paint the Mona Lisa over & over again.

Among the other things that I’ve appreciated so far about this album is that it has challenged me. It’s made me listen. It’s made me think. It’s made me reflect.

I feel like with Bruce having written his autobiography & doing the Broadway show that it has made him take stock of his life, his age & so on. It feels like the release of this album is an extension of that, which in turn is supposed to take us, the listener, on a similar journey of self-reflection.

If you stuck it though this long reading all my inane rambling, I thank you for your time. See ya further on up the road.;)

Just wanted to thank you for all your effort in composing that song by song synopsis. Really enjoyed reading it. Absorbing and insightful stuff. As one of the other posters remarked, your ambivalence to Stones was a surprise and had me disappointed for you. Hopefully in time it may work for you. Certainly a fair few on here including yours truly regard it as a quite stunning track. But different strokes etc. Anyroad, thanks again mate.

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On 6/24/2019 at 6:10 PM, Ann Jones said:

I do, but I think the orchestral music lifts these songs so that, compared to Nebraska for instance, they are less depressing. I love Nebraska BTW, not knocking it.

Generally speaking, I much prefer melancholy songs, regardless of the artist.

i find Nebraska kind of desperate rather than sad

different kinds of melancholy

Joad - and i adore Joad - is desperately sad

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19 hours ago, Paolo's Circus Story said:

I went through every song on Springsteen Lyrics one by one, only to find out it's that easy. 

who is Paolo 

he's this Italian fan 

 

 

sorry i miss read your post :lol:

 

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On 6/23/2019 at 7:51 AM, Rizla said:

Two things.

Some people have remarked that "Sleepy Joe's Cafe" is in the style of The Mavericks. 

I literally cannot keep up with these threads so late to the party but earlier someone mentioned Sleepy sounds like Come Dancing by The Kinks.

Didn't hear it initially but now that's all I can hear.  Love that tune.

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After a hard few days, I can definitely confirm this album is very therapeutic. It’s also made me wanna listen to the Eagles so now I’m feeling very mellow, and ready to take a western road trip. If only!

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https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/chart-beat/8517130/madonna-bruce-springsteen-top-two-billboard-200

I hope WS has some legs to it, so it can get to number 1.  

Would love to see this album nominated for a Grammy, but I don't know what category to place it.

After many, many listens, my top three are Motel, Chasing Wild Horses and Western Stars.

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47 minutes ago, nfbandon said:

https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/chart-beat/8517130/madonna-bruce-springsteen-top-two-billboard-200

I hope WS has some legs to it, so it can get to number 1.  

Would love to see this album nominated for a Grammy, but I don't know what category to place it.

After many, many listens, my top three are Motel, Chasing Wild Horses and Western Stars.

Madonna reached number one thanks to CD sold in boundle with the tour sales, without them Bruce would be number1, and in almost the rest of the world, Bruce reached n1... I know that Bruce probably doesn't give a f... to these things, but it's just to be clear.

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13 minutes ago, Kay said:

How was Bon Bon?  Shot voice?  

They were actually really amazing! I wasn’t expecting much from Jon’s voice, but he did good. He nailed his vocals on Always, and all the band gave him a fist bump at the end because they knew it was a big deal. They looked so pleased for him. I think they knew how special the show was at Wembley, and how great they’d done, because they all got very emotional at the end, especially Jon. It’s nice when you see how much it means to people, even after all these years. 

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1 minute ago, rachelharms said:

They were actually really amazing! I wasn’t expecting much from Jon’s voice, but he did good. He nailed his vocals on Always, and all the band gave him a fist bump at the end because they knew it was a big deal. They looked so pleased for him. I think they knew how special the show was at Wembley, and how great they’d done, because they all got very emotional at the end, especially Jon. It’s nice when you see how much it means to people, even after all these years. 

What a lovely, positive post. :)

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random thought listening to album today as bruce seems to make moves away from the norm and seeing how seemed  to enjoy his broadway  stint what about "WESTERN STARS" THE MUSICAL  very random thought i know with bruce you never know

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