Bruce Springsteen: The Ties That Bind – The River Collection [Album Review] 0 399

Bruce Springsteen: The Ties That Bind – The River Collection [Album Review] 0 400

bruce-river-collection Bruce Springsteen
The Ties That Bind: The River Collection
Columbia Records [2015]

headphone approved reissue

Fire Note Says: Springsteen revisits The River in this majestic box set.

Album Review: In 1980, Bruce Springsteen released the only double album of his career, “The River.” While the New Jersey-based singer/songwriter had already been on the covers of Time and Newsweek magazines and tasted major commercial success with his “Born To Run” album, five years earlier, Springsteen had reached a turning point. He wanted to take his songs to the next level, tell the stories of his characters with greater poetic depth, place the stories he told in a larger political and economic context, to bring them closer to the truth.

Now, 35 years later, Springsteen revisits these songs, and that period of artistic turmoil that produced them, in the majestic box set that is “The Ties That Bind.” Of course, the box includes the original two-disc album, as well as the original single disc version that Springsteen turned into the record company, which includes a couple songs that didn’t make it onto the completed release, and then over 22 songs that were outtakes, many of them not previously released.

The final, official release of “The River” captured the tensions that have always run through Springsteen’s work, the desire to create artistic statements that captured the lived truth of human existence and an un-tethered appreciation for redemptive power of rock & roll music. In that regard, it was a coming of age album, as Springsteen sought to write about what it meant to be in one’s early 30’s, dealing with the responsibilities and expectations of adulthood: jobs, marriage, children. “The River” featured some of his strongest story-telling ballads in the title track, “Independence Day,” “Point Blank,” “Stolen Car,” and “Drive All Night.”

But these more serious reflections on life’s challenges and the consequences of living with one’s choices were juxtaposed against the noisy, buoyant rockers that make up the balance of the album. Springsteen had brought in guitarist (“Little”) Steven Van Zandt to the production team on “The River” in hopes of capturing more of the band’s live sound, something that was missing often on previous efforts. “Sherry Darling” captured more of that house party feel, and the rockers leaned toward more of the raw energy that the band always delivered live, on tracks like “Cadillac Ranch,” “I’m A Rocker,” “Ramrod,” “Out In the Street,” “Crush on You,” and Springsteen’s first hit single, “Hungry Heart.” The album’s double length provided the necessary space for the artist and his crew to stretch out, in both directions.

Also included in “The Ties That Bind” is a beautiful coffee table picture book that captures the energy and charisma of Springsteen and his tight-knit musician friends that made up the E Street Band, which opens with an elegant essay of fine music journalism by Mikal Gilmore, titled “American River.” The icing on the cake is two blu-ray discs, the documentary film, “The Ties That Bind,” which bridges archival footage and photographs with current interviews with Springsteen about his songs and the work of recording them all those years ago.

Finally, the second blu-ray is a concert film, captured at the ASU Activity Center in Tempe, Arizona, in November of 1980. It’s a delight to see such a young and energetic Springsteen leading the 6-piece E Streeters through their paces on classics like the opening “Born to Run,” through tracks from “The River” and long-time favorites, “Thunder Road,” “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight),” “Jungleland” and the now infamous “Detroit Medley.” Over the years, Springsteen has added players to his band, guitarist Nils Lofgren, wife/singer Patti Scialfa, violinist Soozie Tyrell, and especially since the deaths of keyboard player Danny Federici and the Big Man, saxophonist Clarence Clemons, bringing on board Charles Giordano and Jake Clemons to fill in the missing parts.

Not only does this time-capsule capture that early band at the height of its powers, but features Springsteen at his energetic, charismatic and at times downright goofy best, dancing, cajoling the audience and his band-mates to toss convention to the wind and lose one’s self in a night of rock & roll ecstasy. The Blu-ray delivers 24 songs from that marathon show, but some have noticed that it does not include “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” “Independence Day,” “Factory,” “Candy’s Room,” “Here She Comes,” “The Ties That Bind,” “Stolen Car,” “Wreck on the Highway,” and “Point Blank” from the original concert’s set-list. If you want to see the full concert it’s available HERE.

If the breakthrough commercial success of “Born to Run” gave Springsteen the capitol to make the kind of records he wanted, it was “The River” that sought to deliver not only the kind of pop hits that fans expected but to dig deeper as an artist. His next album would be the quiet, profoundly literate and mostly acoustic “Nebraska,” but would be followed by his biggest selling rocker, “Born In the U.S.A.” Not only does “The Ties That Bind” work as an introduction to Bruce Springsteen for those who missed it the first time around, and a nostalgic trip back in time for fans who’ve been along for the ride since the beginning, but it’s also a chance to watch an artist stretching the boundaries, attempting to fulfill his potential and expand on what was previously possible.

Key Tracks: “Hungry Heart” / “The River” / “Cadillac Ranch” / “Drive All Night”
Single Album: “Cindy” / “Stolen Car” / Outtakes: “Meet Me In The City” / “Where The Bands Are”

Artists With Similar Fire: Bob Dylan / Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers / John Mellencamp

Bruce Springsteen Website
Bruce Springsteen Facebook
Columbia Records

– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Quincy Newcomb has found work as rock critic and music journalist since the early 80's, contributing over the years to Billboard Magazine, Paste, The Riverfront Times, and The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Brian Q. Newcomb
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Ruby Boots: Don’t Talk About It [Album Review] 0 507

Ruby Boots
Don’t Talk About It
Bloodshot Records [2018]

Fire Note Says: Aussie country rocker with promise debuts States-side for Bloodshot Records.

Album Review: The second album from Ruby Boots roars out of the gate with “It’s So Cruel,” a cow-punk rocker that recalls the energy of Jason & The Scorchers. But before you get your hopes up, producer Beau Bedford (of The Texas Gentlemen), perhaps eager to display the singer/songwriter’s versatility, offers her up in the big doo-wop wall of sound of “Believe In Heaven,” nostalgic for the early days when Phil Spector was producing girl groups as rock & roll was first finding it’s way into the mainstream. “Don’t Talk About It,” the album’s title track, follows. It’s another ballad with orchestration that draws inspiration from that old school retro-sound.

Ruby Boots (real name, Bex Chilcott) comes from Australia via Nashville and had one previous album on an Aussie imprint before this debut on Bloodshot Records, a journey made by Kasey Chambers and others. Following the first three big production numbers, Boots sounds more at home on “Easy Way Out,” with a chord progression borrowed from the Tom Petty songbook, and the country weeper “Don’t Break My Heart Twice.”

The second half of the album sticks closer to country/rock formulas, with “I’ll Make It Through,” co-written and with harmony vocals by Nikki Lane, “Somebody Else” and “Infatuation,” are set up by punchy rhythms, strong vocal hooks, and solid, rocking guitars and minimal twang. Okay Boots has some twang in her voice on “Infatuation.” On these three, and the closing angry, country kick you to the curb slow burner with bluesy guitar and honky-tonk piano/organ that is “Don’t Give a Damn,” Boots sounds a bit like a young Lucinda Williams as the song heats up like a Rolling Stones’ song.

It’s the nearly a capella, almost hymnic “I Am A Woman,” that exhibits Boots’ voice in all it’s unique purity, in a spiritual song that declares her feminine gifts and her internal strength of being, echoing strength alongside vulnerability. On the whole this is a solid, inviting outing, driven by good songs and equally solid performances. Ruby Boots will be one to watch.

Key Tracks: “It’s So Cruel” / “Easy Way Out” / “Infatution”

Artists With Similar Fire: Nikki Lane / Lone Justice / Lydia Loveless

Ruby Boots Website
Ruby Boots Facebook
Bloodshot Records

– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Quincy Newcomb has found work as rock critic and music journalist since the early 80's, contributing over the years to Billboard Magazine, Paste, The Riverfront Times, and The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Brian Q. Newcomb

Bill Mallonee & The Big Sky Ramblers: Forest Full Of Wolves [Album Review] 1 892

Bill Mallonee & The Big Sky Ramblers
Forest Full of Wolves
Self-Released [2018]

Fire Note Says: Bill Mallonee is one of those best-kept secrets you really want to share with the rest of the music loving world.

Album Review: No one is ever going to call singer/songwriter Bill Mallonee an under-achiever. His latest release, a 10 song full-length effort, Forest Full of Wolves is his 78th album by his own count. Mallonee spent the 1990s fronting the Athens, GA-band Vigilantes of Love, shuffling from one label to the next, driving a van from coast-to-coast playing every alternative rock/Americana friendly venue who would let them. Hometown friend, Peter Buck (R.E.M.) co-produced one of the band’s early more-acoustic albums, the Killing Floor. The band’s 1999 album, released on three different labels of the course of 18 months, Audible Sigh was produced by Nashville’s favorite side-man Buddy Miller, and includes a guest vocal by Emmylou Harris, as well as some of Mallonee’s best loved songs. Paste Magazine has named him one of the 100 greatest living songwriters.

A rough count, say there were 10 songs per release (usually there were more), puts Mallonee’s songwriting output at nearly 8000, and those are the one’s he’s recorded. Now basic logic would suggest that they can’t all be good, and surely not all of them are memorable, but Mallonee’s work, his actual raison d’’etre, has proven especially consistent over the decades, and in the 2010’s he’s delivered a solid album’s worth of tunes each year, with a noticeable uptick in production values starting with 2011’s The Power & The Glory. Last year’s excellent The Rags of Absence was a case in point, with Mallonee especially attentive to his lead guitar parts.

Forest Full of Wolves continues to chronicle the challenges to working class people and even songwriters, as if Mallonee is creating his own musical version of John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” for what he calls this “new dark age.” “Greed and fear (have) gained the upper hand,” he sings in “Changing of the Guard,” so he’s “grabbed a guitar & a notebook or two… became a phantom with some conjuring ‘neath the moon.”

Musically, Wolves takes the energy of Rags to the next level, with bigger, noiser guitar tones. Mallonee captures a Neil Young jamming with Crazy Horse in the garage vibe throughout, which is likely a lot harder to pull off since Mallonee’s playing all the instruments. Mid-tempo alternative country rock at it’s most earnest and relevant, and against all odds, Mallonee manages to offer a word of hope. “In the New Dark Age” he sings, borrowing the title from a different song that he recording on 2014’s The Winnowing, “the best thing you can do is fall in love.” Of course, “Love Is Always Risky Currency,” but it’s the best chance any of us have of surviving in this “Forest Full of Wolves.”

Like many artists scrambling to make art in the challenging digital marketplace and survive financially Mallonee has struggled to reach out and connect with Americana fans, break ground with new audiences, even though he’s stayed off the road in recent years. As a fan who first heard the singer songwriter live in the early 90’s, and many times over the years, Bill Mallonee is one of those best-kept secrets you really want to share with the rest of the music loving world. It’s artists who wear their passion on their sleeves, who keep pouring out their hearts in songs, that make the music that matters. (One reason to order the hard CD copy of this one, is the cover art produced by another singer songwriter, Chris Taylor, from San Antonio, TX.).

Key Tracks: “In the New Dark Age” / “Voodoo Ink” / “Trimmed & Burning”

Artists With Similar Fire: Neil Young / Bob Dylan / John Prine

Bill Mallonee Website
Bill Mallonee Facebook

– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Quincy Newcomb has found work as rock critic and music journalist since the early 80's, contributing over the years to Billboard Magazine, Paste, The Riverfront Times, and The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Brian Q. Newcomb

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