Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Chieftains' Voice of Ages and Bruce Springsteen's Wrecking Ball

Sometimes when I'm working downstairs I listen to my old CD's. While doing so recently, I had a strong feeling of nostalgia for the days of complete albums.

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I rarely purchase entire albums nowadays. This saves me a significant amount of money, and it also lets me listen to a broader range of artists. One of my favorite things to do is download five or ten songs, each by a different musician, and try out their various rhythms and styles.

What I've lost, though, is experiencing the range of songs within an individual musician or band. The oeuvre, I guess you call it? 

Albums, especially my favorites, had a way of becoming more than the individual songs.  Listening to an album -- getting wrapped up in the familiar progression of songs -- is somewhat analogous to losing myself in a book (as opposed to reading an individual article in a magazine).

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In light of my album-nostalgia, it's been fun this winter and early spring to listen repeatedly to two new albums: The Chieftains' Voice of Ages and Bruce Springsteen's Wrecking Ball.

Both albums have a ton of good songs, and it's a treat to listen repeatedly and develop different favorites on different days.

Voice of Ages is The Chieftains' celebration of 50 years together.  They've got a few pieces with just each other, plus a bunch with indie-music stars including Bon Iver, the Decemberists, and the Carolina Chocolate Drops. "Peggy Gordon" is my favorite for now.

The uilleann pipes, flutes, fiddle, and drums are fantastic (I love when the musicians rotate through their solos on the different instruments).  The melodies are contagious. And the melancholic mixes with the joyful.


Wrecking Ball is the most Springsteen that I've listened to since The Rising -- and it's almost (ultimately not quite) as good. The shortfall here is the slower songs, which do not have the heft or feeling of "My City of Ruins" or "You're Missing".

The more upbeat songs, on the other hand, are terrific. "Death to My Hometown" (which put me in mind of  the Dropkick Murphys) and "American Land" stand out: I love the power of the drums and of Bruce's voice.

Jody Rosen at Slate has a good piece about Wrecking Ball here, in which he praises Bruce's music but pans the economic critique. Here's an excerpt:

Springsteen has always been a social realist—often, a brilliant one, with songs that captured the fine-grain texture of everyday lives. Here, though, he sounds like a socialist realist. The songs veer into proletarian kitsch: “Freedom, son, is a dirty shirt/ The sun on my face and my shovel in the dirt.” On his best records, Springsteen was simply a storyteller: He wrote about the white working class because that’s what interested him, that’s the world he knew best. In recent years, self-consciousness has taken hold; he’s never sounded so dutiful about his role as bard of the masses ...

When Springsteen isn’t painting WPA murals, he tries out biblical scenes. The Wrecking Ball lyric sheet is full of abstract nouns and gospel inflections: Dreams and Faith and Hope and Promises, with an occasional Calvary Hill or Canaan tossed in for good measure.

At any rate, I am enjoying the music -- and it's a nice change-up (making me feel 10 or 20 years younger, perhaps?!) to be listening to a couple of albums.

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