Review: Springsteen sends a vibrant 'Letter' about mortality

©Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Bruce Springsteen in "Bruce Springsteen's Letter to You," premiering Oct. 23 on Apple TV+. - Apple TV+/TNS/TNS

Bruce Springsteen, “Letter to You”

(Columbia)

In a mere four days last November with the E Street Band, Springsteen recorded his 20th studio album at his New Jersey farm. Hearing Max Weinberg’s propulsive drums, Jake Clemons’ soaring saxophone and that celebrative, heroic Wall of Sound will thrill longtime believers.

With “Letter,” the usual studio perfectionist essays a spirited, career-long view of his search for the promised land. The 12-song disc ends up being both something of a retrospective and perhaps a valediction.

Springsteen revisits three unreleased pieces from the early ‘70s, each character-filled, wordy and dated, including the slavishly Dylanesque “Song of Orphans.” He digs back even earlier to his teen band. After the 2018 death of his 1960s Castiles bandmate George Theiss, the Boss penned the majestic “Last Man Standing,” a tribute to his late pal and maybe a bit of self-aggrandizement.

Still brimming with vitality and sometimes vitriol (the rollicking “Rainmaker,” in which he calls out an unnamed Trump-like figure), the 71-year-old rock messiah preaches a familiar theme of how rock ‘n’ roll will save your soul, notably with the Jim Steinman-evoking “House of a Thousand Guitars.” It ranks as a high point here along with the vibrant, glistening rocker “Ghosts” (about a guitar-slinging bandmate he’ll “meet on the other side”).

The Boss opens and closes “Letter” with reflections on life — the seemingly solitary, gently twangy “One Minute You’re Here” (“next minute you’re gone”), which is sonically of a piece with 2019’s “Western Stars,” and the wistful full-band ballad “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” which could be a benediction for his career or just for the late E Streeters Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici. Either way, mortality is on Springsteen’s mind.

The companion making-of documentary, which premiered Friday on Apple TV+, finds the Boss and his mates in one scene raising a pre-pandemic toast to returning to the road. That postscript to “Letter to You” will have to wait.

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NEW RELEASES

— Jeff Tweedy, “Love Is the King”

— Laura Veirs, “My Echo”

— John Frusciante, “Maya”

— Adrianne Lenker, “Songs”

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©2020 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)