Bruce Springsteen’s 19th album opens with Hitch Hikin’, a song which perfectly defines his evergreen charms.
There’s no grandstanding, no drama, just an acoustic guitar – and, soon, strings and piano – backing a weathered voice as it describes life on the road and the faces encountered there.
It is, in fact, as peaceful and heartfelt as Valentine’s Day, the track which closed Tunnel Of Love, his understated follow-up to Born In The USA. The mood’s maintained on this often stirring, always endearing collection. In fact, The Wayfarer, another song about a restless drifter, might even improve on that overlooked classic’s atmosphere with an inspired string and brass arrangement, while another itinerant lifestyle is celebrated in Sundown’s gloriously uplifting melody.
Similarly, the title track’s muted portrait of a fading cowboy actor – “Once I was shot by John Wayne” – and Drive Fast (The Stuntman), about a man’s stubborn urge for danger, miraculously deliver affectionate, string-drenched nostalgia while sparing us any schmaltz.
Such orchestration is indeed key throughout, and, alongside pedal steel, no less evident on the second half of Chasin’ Wild Horses, which is loaded with appropriate nostalgia, though joy is quietly switched for melancholy on the poetic Stones, its pace as slow as clouds in a West Texas sky.
For those who dream of America’s open spaces and its small-town dramas, furthermore, Moonlight Motel – with its memories of “a half-drunk beer and your breath in my ear” – will prove compelling. As Hitch Hikin’ warns, “Catch me now/ ’cause tomorrow I’ll be gone…”