The Glorious Corner: Bruce Springsteen, Woodstock 50, Debbie Gibson and More

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Bruce Springsteen’s “Western Stars”
G. H. Harding

BRUCE’S STARS —(via Ultimate Classic Rock) Bruce Springsteen 

doesn’t reach for anything too big on his first album in five years. Western Stars, more than anything, is the 69-year-old singer and songwriter’s look back at music that was popular with adult listeners right around the time he was launching his own career.

For 50 minutes, Western Stars recalls the sweet and breezy California sounds that Jimmy Webb, Glen Campbell and other late-60’s and early 70’s songwriters and artists mined for adult-contemporary radio gold back in the day. Nothing pushes too hard here, and few songs appear to be future Springsteen classics, at least on the surface.

But it’s a lush, gorgeous record that sounds unlike anything Springsteen has recorded in the past. Strings, horns and backup singers evoke an earlier period of music that brought some innocence to turbulent times back then. And in a way, Western Stars serves the same purpose. Its light, genial tone goes against the grain of everything happening in the U.S. right now. It’s a calm, peaceful and most likely temporary respite from the harsh outside world.

Whether it’s the ebullient horns pushing alongside “The Wayfarer” or the familiar structures “Hello Sunshine” is built upon, Western Stars is a deliberate attempt to channel the spirit and sound of Campbell’s classic string of hits written by Webb like “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston.” Springsteen’s spare but emotional vocal style here uncovers shades he hasn’t used in years or sometimes ever before.

The best songs – “Hitch Hikin’,” “The Wayfarer,” “Tucson Train,” “There Goes My Miracle,” “Hello Sunshine” – belong together. When the album coalesces, as it often does, it’s Springsteen’s most satisfying since 2002’s The Rising. Unlike 2014’s High Hopes, which was cobbled together from songs Springsteen had sitting around for years (and often sounded like it), Western Stars conjures a specific place and time – especially in its orchestrations. On their own, the album’s songs are good, but together they gain more meaning and resonance.

Springsteen keeps the lyrical content light too, though some sense of fading fame and reflection on past glories creeps in from time to time: See “Western Stars” and “Drive Fast (The Stuntman),” where he steps into characters for narratives about guys whose lives didn’t turn out exactly as they planned. But that melancholy is often tempered by the music, which rarely rushes things in and out of the frames housing the songs. These aren’t fist-raising, singalong numbers; this is music to watch the sunset by.

But it doesn’t all work. “Sleepy Joe’s Cafe” recalls any number of party-setting throwback songs Springsteen has put on albums throughout his career; the spare and brief “Somewhere North of Nashville” sounds unfinished; and “Drive Fast (The Stuntman)”‘s gritty theme is out of step with the rest of the record’s middle-of-the-road pace.

Like earlier solo ventures, Western Stars includes minimal input from E Street Band members, and the laid-back arrangements on most of the songs leave little room for a full group to let loose. The structured, and almost rigid, approach eases the record into another category altogether from records like Nebraska and Devils & Dust, not to mention Darkness on the Edge of Town and even Magic.

But this isn’t quite the nostalgia trip it appears to be. There’s a sensitivity to the music and period that goes deeper than that. After a decade of albums that aimed for bigger targets and wrapped their intentions in songs that sometimes didn’t fit their messages, and vice versa, Western Stars finds a place where there’s peaceful correlation. It couldn’t be further from Springsteen’s New Jersey roots. And he couldn’t sound more at home.

Springsteen’s New Jersey roots. And he couldn’t sound more at home.

First review I’ve read – can’t wait to hear. Sounds like the perfect potion for the summer 2019.

“Woodstock”

WOODSTOCK UPDATE —The saga of Woodstock 50 continues with another logistical blow to the festival. This time, host venue Watkins Glen International is the bearer of bad news, with officials stating, “Watkins Glen International terminated the site license for Woodstock pursuant to provisions of the contract. As such, WGI will not be hosting the Woodstock 50 Festival.

It seems like the 50th anniversary event has been plagued with continued problems, from ticket sales being continually postponed to founder Micheal Lang alleging a multi-million dollar theft by investors.

Scheduled performers for Woodstock 50 include Dead & Company, Santana, The Killers, Jay-Z, Chance the Rapper, Miley Cyrus and many more.

“I’m as much of a spectator as anyone else is to this wildness,” Dead & Company guitarist John Mayer said in May. “I was told, ‘Yeah it’s not happening.’ There’s only one person still saying, ‘No, it’s gonna go.’ It reminds me of the scene in Monty Python [and The Holy Grail] where the knight is now missing the arm and the leg and he’s hopping up and down and saying, ‘It’s just a flesh wound.’ If those guys [Dead & Company] end up going, I will go, but it seems to me now: ‘It’s just a flesh wound’ and blood is spurting everywhere.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, officials from Woodstock 50 have yet to make a statement, and the festival’s website remains operational, still listing Watkins Glen, NY as its location.

This story is still developing.

“Rocketman”

KENT’S KORNER — Interesting take from Forgotten Hits’ Kent Kotal on Rocketman: “I think with shows like Jersey Boys and Mamma Mia, it was a bit easier to tolerate the incorrect sequencing of the songs because you knew going in that this was being presented as a musical … and that the songs would help to advance the story along. 

Rocketman, on the other hand, was hyped as the latest rock and roll biopic, and compared immediately to the Freddie Mercury story told in Bohemian Rhapsody, due to the tremendous success enjoyed by that film.

Perhaps Rocketman was designed with the future of a stage musical in mind … and within that context (as long as you’re willing to give up all sense of historical accuracy along the way), it works a whole lot better.  But then DON’T call it a biopic … call it a rock and roll fantasyexploring the music and career of the incredible Elton John.

I agree that sometimes it’s just enjoyable to go see and hear the music you love presented in any fashion … and my hope is that moving forward, THIS is the way that I will view Rocketman. It just wasn’t what I expected … or was conditioned to expect … based on the advertising campaign.” 

Debbie Gibson

SHORT TAKES —Sunday, June 30, at Nassau Coliseum is the date for NKOTB’s Mix Tape Tour, with Debbie Gibson, Tiffany, Salt ‘n Pepa, and Naughty By Nature. We’ll be there …  Happy B-Day Roger Friedman … SIGHTING: Author Mark Bego with his editor Jay Cassell (Skyhorse Publishing) for lunch in midtown … Micky Dolenz, just back from shows in Australia and New Zealand, is on Fox’s Good Day LA,Friday June 28 … HBO brought back their critically-acclaimed show Big Little Lies, with all the original actors intact (Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern, Zoë Kravitz & Meryl Streep). I was never one for sequels, but this one was utterly terrific. Of course, the addition of  Streep to the cast was just brilliant. It picks up about two years since the accident. I’m actually going to watch it again tonight; it was that good. Kudos!

“Big Little Lies”

NAMES IN THE NEWS — Paul Undersinger; Tom & Lisa Cuddy; Michael Wilson; Robert Funaro; Tracey Zamot; Mark Ricci; Mark Sokoloff; Heather Moore; Tracey Zamot; Steve Leeds; Dave Marken; DC LaRue; and, CHIP.

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