Recordings

When John Wesley Harding strips the testosterone from "Jackson Cage" with a gentle acoustic guitar, he finds a melody that Springsteen's shouts hid. What Harding doesn't change is the emotional directness of the main character, who pulses with empathy for a woman stifled by suburbia. John Hiatt turns unrepentant "Johnny 99" into a big-footed voodoo stomp, while Dave Alvin makes over "Seeds" into an edge-of-Johnny Cash exercise in paranoia.

The 28 tunes--14 of them new recordings, 14 of them old--generally feel soulful and committed. A good number of the songs here, such as Southside Johnny's "The Fever," were never officially released by Springsteen. Only the most faithful fans would have heard all of these songs before.

All of which helps this album avoid the futility of most tribute discs. You won't ask "Why did they bother?" when you hear Marshall Crenshaw's full-throttle rooster strut on "All or Nothing at All." He sounds like he couldn't live without it.

--Salvatore Caputo

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