The Ghost of Tom Joad
In the spirit of Nebraska, Bruce Springsteen strips down his sound (though not always to barebones acoustics) and tells tales of people disenfranchised by the widening gap between rich and poor. The characters are people on society’s margins, working in the shadows and struggling to get by. The title track is a masterstroke, a touching portrait of a modern-day John Steinbeck character; one can hear Bruce reach back to Woody Guthrie. For “Straight Time,” an ex-con with a new wife and kids ponders the pull of his previous life. “Youngstown” speaks from the soul of a despairing coal miner in the Ohio city. Two Mexican brothers in “Sinaloa Cowboys” end up cooking methamphetamine when fieldwork doesn’t pay the bills. Several songs here were inspired by newspaper stories, while others came from what Springsteen has witnessed around the country over the years. It’s a dark album. “My Best Was Never Good Enough” spits forth with a bitterness uncommon to Springsteen’s hopeful works. It’s a harrowing ride, but well worth taking.