Sound Bites

It’s with a rush of energy, adrenaline and spirit by which The Rising – the first new studio album from Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band in 18 years – comes to life. It’s an energy that stands tall, proud and strong for one of Springsteen’s greatest achievements ever and one of American music’s best moments of the year.

The Rising is such a brilliant record that you don’t just listen to the songs; they inhabit your mindset before you even know it. Landing inside your head like a waterfall of passion and vigor, the songs are dynamic, defiant and moving. More than anything, the songs show a band that doesn’t seem as old as it is, but does instead seem as tight as it can be.

Following up a slew of solo recordings that got more and more solemn as the years went by, Springsteen rediscovers that bristling sense of chaos and hope that embodied so much of his early songwriting. “Into The Fire” is a wash of warm colors and sounds, crunched together with the magically intoxicating refrain: “May your strength give us strength/May your faith give us faith/May your hope give us hope/May your love give us love.”

The E Street Band adds a depth and heat to Springsteen’s arrangements that has been missing on more sparce solo efforts such as The Ghost of Tom Joad. And, it seems, the band has given Springsteen a reason to sing and a reason to cheer. “Waitin’ On A Sunny Day” is a blissful song about depression, the happiest song about rainy days this side of Burt Bacharach. Combining drummer Max Weinberg’s fluid percussion with Clarence Clemons’ vibrant saxophone makes for a joyous and unforgettable piece.

The Rising has moments of unexpected experimentation, songs that reach into a distant horizon we didn’t expect from The Boss. Perhaps thanks to producer Brendan O’Brien (who is more at home with acts such as Rage Against The Machine and Pearl Jam), The Rising tweaks the Springsteen model. The tweaks are minor, but distinct. Minor as they may be, they are major additions to the environment of the album. Whether it be churning, burning and muted vocals with hushed piano on “The Fuse” or Asif Ali Khan providing delicate qawwali melodies for an Eastern vibe on “Worlds Apart.”

These bold steps into new directions are what send The Rising above and beyond typical singer-songwriter fare. The album is so remarkably refreshing, yet still amazingly comfortable.

There is an ideal Bruce Springsteen, a man of equal parts poet and patriot. There’s a Springsteen that is at one moment proud and at the next moment, vulnerable. This is the dexterous Springsteen we hope for. On The Rising, this is the Springsteen we get.

– Matt Dentler

The newest release from the incomparable Lost Highway record label (home to artists like Lucinda Williams and Robert Earl Keen) comes by way of singer/songwriter Tift Merritt. Merritt’s album Bramble Rose is a country-tinged collection of beautifully understated songs by producer Ethan Johns.

“Trouble Over Me,” the album’s opening number, immediately draws the listener’s attention with its quiet verse and loud, crashing chorus. Merritt’s first single “Virginia, No One Can Warn You” is very catchy and upbeat. “Bird of Freedom,” with its unique combination of piano and bongos, is a pretty song to listen to, though, lyrically, a little confusing. “Know Him Too” is a great song with radio potential and clever lyrics about her ex’s infidelities and lyrics such as “I know you think you know him better/ Wait a little longer, I know him too.”

The album’s most interesting track is the six-minute “Sunday,” a plaintive song about the boredom and self-scrutiny a day of rest sometimes brings out in people. It’s the best and possibly the only other country western treatment on the Sunday blues since Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down.”

Bramble Rose is a well-crafted and smart album, interesting to listen to and revealing of Merritt’s talents for writing a good range of songs. Though her voice isn’t as angelic as Emmylou Harris’ and not as edgy as Shelby Lynne’s, Merritt’s smart songwriting and delivery is reminiscent of the two aforementioned ladies. More than anything, Tift Merritt’s got the goods.

– Stayton Bonner

The new soundtrack to Michael Winterbottom’s film 24 Hour Party People poses an interesting dilemma: What do you get the post-punk, new-wave fan who has everything? Apparently more of the same if this album is any indication.

The film chronicles the early days of the Manchester rock scene, a scene that spawned pop saviors out of working class bands such as New Order and the Happy Mondays. It’s a niche topic, one that possibly only appeals to a select few out there. Nonetheless, it’s a topic ripe with great music and great bands.

The soundtrack supplies music as fine as you’d hope for. But odds are, if you like this stuff already, you already own it. True to its subject matter, the soundtrack version of 24 Hour Party People sticks heavily with music from pioneering post-punk group Joy Division. In fact, the album features just about every hit the band ever had, including “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and “Atmosphere.” In between the Joy Division songs are standards for the era such as “Anarchy in the U.K.” from the Sex Pistols, “Janie Jones” from The Clash and “Blue Monday” from New Order.

There are mild surprises with songs such as “Pacific State” from 808 State, but the truly unique discoveries on the record are fairly nonexistent. In other words, this is an album of good songs, but not so much a good album.

One intriguing moment on paper is a New Order cover of their old Joy Division song “New Dawn Fades,” recorded live and featuring Moby, Billy Corgan and John Frusciante on guitars and vocals. This was never one of Joy Division’s better songs, and besides, Moby’s lackluster cover of it was released about 10 years ago. So much for nostalgia.

Rather than highlight unknown gems and moments from the scene, this education of the Manchester rock era is fairly remedial. It will serve the purpose well for the uninitiated, and that’s a great asset, but few others will find anything really exciting about this collection. It may be good and it may be fun, but haven’t we heard this all before?

-Matt Dentler

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