This is one of Springsteens best albums. It is in the same vein as 'Nebraska' and has echos of 'Devils and Dust' to come. It is supremely chilled out and very relaxing to listen to, his voice perfectly pitched to tell the stories in each song. This album contains such gems as the title track, 'Youngstown', 'Dry lightning' and 'Best wasn't good enough' to end the album on a perfect note. I tend to feel that the album is best listened to in it's entirety to get the full benefit from it though. This is Springsteen doing what he does best, which is telling a beautiful story, backed by great music, simple as that. Don't buy it expecting the Stadium anthems of the 80's, but do expect some of the best music that Bruce has ever put out.
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This album is often forgotten, although the Boss includes tracks in his live shows with the E Street Band. It is thoughtfully composed and is different from the raw rock n' roll for which the Boss is best known.
You can see the great influences on Bruce in sounds and verse better associated with Bob Dylan and Woodie Guthrie and other great folk singers, who talk about the tough lives of the working man in simple survival.
This album, by comparison with other Springsteen work, rarely receives the acclaim that it deserves but should be in everybody's music library. It is bound by all Springsteen's lyrics by the descriptive power and raw detail, which demands that you listen to the greatest singer, songwriter and musician of my lifetime.
Bruce Springsteen: rebel soul, good-time party rocker, the guy from Philadelphia who only ever sang about cars and girls; his is a legacy tainted by misinformed parody and undeserved malign. In the 70s he was already unstoppable; in the 80s he adopted a commercial bent that propelled him into the realms of superstardom - by 1995, with a fortune stockpiled in Asbury Park, Springsteen had made his millions, and he'd grown old (ok, 45). He didn't need to sing about proving it all night with Rosalita/Sherry/Bobby Jean/whoever or racing his sixty-nine Chevy in the street (in fact, contrary to what Paddy McAloon says, he seldom did). Instead he put it all aside, dispensed with the E-Street sound completely picked up his acoustic guitar, and made a subtle Dylanesque masterpiece, laced with simple, lax melancholy and brimming with wealths of experience, nostalgia and knowing. Never self-indulgent, 'Tom Joad' showcases The Boss' woefully overlooked songmanship - it's the greatest record he's ever made. A striking stylistic departure from past releases -even from 1982s solo `Nebraska', another stark, acoustic depiction of American life, but a more brutal kind that was very much rooted in the depressed state of his younger self, whereas Tom Joad is the sound of an older family man, still bitter but more explicitly political, and unafraid to sound his age - this is grown up music. Springsteen has been an eminent mouthpiece for blue-collar America for the last thirty years. In assessing his career, let us hope that the mean-spirited critic will give pause here: a phenomenal legacy, and a totally gorgeous, low-key, unrefined wonderwork: full of wisdom, rectitude and tender-heartedness. The soundtrack to your salvation: invest - it'll enrich your life. It certainly has, mine.
I can't disagree with any of the praise heaped on this beautiful album, but I don't understand why no one else comments on Springsteen's amazing poetry. He has always had a way with words, notably in the classic album "Born to Run" where the lyrics of every song perfectly capture the mood and the story. "Nebraska" might be a more obviuos musical comparison, but lyrically "Tom Joad" stands above "Nebraska", and is on a par with "Born to Run", although "Tom Joad", is a more difficult album with complex themes. But Springsteen's poetry has evolved and is now sophisticated enough to deal with these themes - in a way that no other musician can. If you want a 21st century poetical experience, burn your Byron, turn the lights low put on this CD and read the lyrics as he delivers the songs - there is nothing more emotive out there! My favourite lines are at the end of "The Line" where he sings "Looking for my Louisa/Black hair falling down" - and that's how the song finishes - leaving you with an image of this lovesick man wandering around the border towns of California looking for this woman, and thinking about her hair.