Albums of the Year 2019: Bruce Springsteen - Western Stars
The Boss led a bumper year for veteran rockers
Now the first generation of real rock stars are finishing their fifth recording decade, the question presents itself: what should a rocker do when their career has gone on much longer than they'd planned? 2019 came up with some excellent answers. Some old-timers continued to play loud, others grew more mellow. But one thing they all had in common was that their music journeyed deep into the imagination.
Of all the rock-veteran albums released, none felt more widescreen than Springsteen's Western Stars. After 40 years of straining every vocal sinew, the gravelly singer tried his hand at smooth orchestral pop.
It wasn't just the musical inspiration that harked back to the Seventies, it was the whole album. Springsteen's cast of drifters and losers reeked of cigarettes and stale beer. Cut adrift in the wide expanses of middle America, they dreamed of lost loves and former glories. More than anything, it was the sumptuous arrangments which sucked you in, making it virtually impossible to listen to it without also feeling strangely nostalgic for a less complicated time.
Chrissie Hynde also scored a late-career high with Valve Bone Woe, her second solo album. This was Hynde's rocker-goes-jazz LP, which these days seems almost obligatory for artists of a certain age. Unlike some singers' efforts, Hynde really carried off her experiments in bebop and soul. From the Memphis horns of "How Glad I Am" to the gentle piano of "I'm a Fool to Want You", Hynde truly sounded like someone who'd spent a lifetime in late-night bars breathing in sharpened 9ths and flattened 5ths.
My gig-of-the-year completes the theme. In July, Neil Young and Bob Dylan played a double bill at Hyde Park. At 73, Young had lost none of his fire and free-form energy. He attacked his guitar like a man trying to shoo an angry wasp. For a couple of hours, he gave an exhilarating display of his various musical personas. Bob, on the other hand, was a little more complex. He sat behind his piano grinning and making noises that barely sounded like notes, let alone his own songs. For most of the crowd, though, his mere presence was enough to transport them to another place and time.
Two More Essential Albums of 2019 Valve Bone Woe – Chrissie Hynde and the Valve Bone Woe Ensemble The Brian Jonestown Massacre – The Brian Jonestown Massacre Gig of the Year Neil Young and Bob Dylan at Hyde Park Track of the Year 747 – Bill Callahan (from Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest)