Boss ‘n’ Soul: Bruce Springsteen pays homage to black music

The fact that Bruce Springsteen will release a new album this year was recently revealed by a “spoiler”. After some speculation it is now clear: This is not about songs from the “Boss” pen.

Bruce Springsteen and soul – this connection was not necessarily obvious to many, since the rock superstar is considered to be the strong voice of white working-class America. The singer, called “The Boss” by millions of fans, always had a love of black music. In his 2016 autobiography, Springsteen repeatedly describes “rock ‘n’ soul” as the desired style and raves about R&B heroes like James Brown and Curtis Mayfield.

15 soul covers

Now it has turned into a surprise album with 15 soul covers – a nod to African American music icons such as Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, Diana Ross and The Four Tops. As the label of America’s biggest living rock idol, Sony announced on Thursday, the record, produced by studio ace Ron Aniello, entitled Only The Strong Survive will be released on November 11 (the suffix “Covers Vol. 1” indicates it). a later reference).

“Soul, along with gospel, is some of the most beautiful vocal music ever recorded,” says Springsteen with audible enthusiasm in an announcement video. “Only The Strong Survive” is one of the last big pop releases of this year – and Springsteen’s first since number one album “Letter To You” (2020), his studio comeback as frontman of the legendary E Street Band. With their widescreen sound and rousing song classics – from “Born To Run” to “The Rising” – the 73-year-old embarks on a world tour in February. Expect hours of concerts again in celebration of some deliciously old-fashioned, sweaty rock ‘n’ roll.

It remains to be seen whether the newly released black music covers will also play a major role in the arena performances. In fact, the E Street Band isn’t really a soul or R&B band, despite a lot of gospel-like fervor on stage. And secondly, the multiple Grammy winner Springsteen, who is said to have sold over 130 million records worldwide, usually separates style excursions from the work of his regular band, who always rock at full steam.

That was already the case with the sparse, intimate country-folk sketches of “Nebraska”, a solo work that was dearly revered by fans and just turned 40 years old. Or in “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions” (2006), Springsteen’s only cover album project to date, a very successful appropriation of old Irish-American songs. And “Western Stars” (2019), his sumptuous homage to 1970s California soft pop, did not record “The Boss” with the E Street Band, but with personnel less close to him.

So now Springsteen-style soul – and the question: Can he do that, is he allowed to do that?

Among the songs on offer on “Only The Strong Survive” there are a few hits (such as The Commodores’ “Night Shift” or Jimmy Ruffin’s “What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted”), but mostly lesser-known gems by Dobie Gray, Tyrone Davis or William Bell . According to Sony, the first single “Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)”, accompanied by a video, was released in 1965 – at the time it was a Top 5 hit, written and sung by the now almost forgotten Frank Wilson.

The title selection

Even the choice of titles shows that the Italian- and Irish-born singer-songwriter from the US state of New Jersey is a profound soul connoisseur – and was looking for songs that go with his rough, mature, still impressively powerful voice.

A 30-page scholarly work by US professor Joel Dinerstein (“The Soul Roots of Bruce Springsteen’s American Dream”) showed serious relationships between the white rock singer and black music as early as 15 years ago. Springsteen’s soul affinity is “its own mix of liberation theology, Catholicism, American folksy, existentialism and Afro-Christianity, with clear antecedents in blues, R&B, soul, country and various folk music styles”.

If you want to see how much devotion Springsteen can also celebrate soul songs with, then there are already various live recordings on the Internet – from “It’s All Right” (The Impressions) to “Lean On Me” (Bill Withers) to “Soul Man” (Isaac Hayes/David Porter). A few years ago, the musician defined this soul music as follows: “It was about the blues, the church, the earth and the sex-drenched sky. (…) It was adult music, sung by real soul men and soul -Women – not by teen idols.”

The fact that Springsteen already has a new album up his sleeve shortly after the huge book success “Renegades: Born in the USA” with ex-US President Barack Obama (2021) was coincidentally – or a “spoiler” – come to light in late summer. Jann Wenner, co-founder of the music magazine “Rolling Stone”, slipped out this sentence when presenting his memoirs: “And by the way, there is a new record by Bruce that will be released this fall. It’s stunning.”

Whether secretly agreed or not – the anticipation was great on the Internet. On the social media channels, the singer then announced news at short notice on Wednesday. The accompanying picture showed an ancient radio set, playing short snippets of classic soul in unreleased Springsteen versions. Now it’s clear what fans can expect in November: a “boss” who pays homage to African American music, with a nostalgic twist. Fans of the E Street Band’s stadium rock sound have to adapt – but for Springsteen “Boss ‘n’ Soul” is probably a heart project.

Bruce Springsteen website Tweet Bruce Springsteen of 28 September


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