Bruce Springsteen: Letter to You review – Sublime meditations of loss, love, life and death

Thu, Oct 22, 2020, 06:00


Letter To You

Bruce Springsteen



Your first guitar. Your first band. Your first songs. Your first record. When you are young, every first is an unforgettable thrill. And when the arc of time has shifted to the other side, those memories are ripe to revisit through the prism of age and experience, of loss and love.

It helps if there is a trigger. Bruce Springsteen says he was prompted to chase down the past when, with the 2019 death of his friend George Theiss, Springsteen became the last man standing from his first band, The Castiles: “Faded pictures in an old scrapbook/ Faded pictures that somebody took/ When you were hard and young and proud/ Back against the wall running raw and loud” (Last Man Standing).

Letter to You, both the title track and the riveting album, is Springsteen’s meditation on a life lived in what he terms a “45-year conversation” with his audience: “In my letter to you I took all my fears and doubts/ In my letter to you all the hard things I found out” (Letter to You).

The album is also about coming home, both literally and metaphorically. Recording last November in Springsteen’s home studio in New Jersey, the E-Street Band – reunited with their leader for the first time since 2016 – impress with a performance redolent of past glories.

They play “live” in that each track is recorded as a band with minimal overdubs. This creates a real pulsating energy, driven by Max Weinberg’s dramatic propulsive drumming and the guitars of Steve Van Zandt, Nils Lofgren and Springsteen himself.

Most of these songs were written with the band in mind, both in terms of suitability and spirit. Ghosts recalls those that have gone but crucially celebrates with those still here: “I shoulder your Les Paul and finger the fretboard/ I make my vows to those who’ve come before/ I turn up the volume, let the spirits be my guide/ Meet you, brother and sister, on the other side”.

This harking back to the past sees Springsteen revisit, with elan, three songs from the early 1970s. If I Was a Priest, Song for Orphans and Janey Needs a Shooter connect us to the unbridled Dylanish voice of a young man, while House of a Thousand Guitars is a mission statement loud and proud.

The album is bookended by companion pieces, One Minute You’re Here and I’ll See You in My Dreams, aptly riffing on the mysteries of life and death. Letter to You directly engages with that last big question. Expect more – we’re in that space now.