Has any American artist -- whether it be filmmaker, author or musician -- responded to 9/11 more vigorously than Bruce Springsteen? Between The Rising, Devils & Dust, and this year's We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, Springsteen's recent material has laboriously detailed the human fallout from that day's attacks and the later Iraq war, balancing stark commentary with chest-pounding anthems. And while there's no faulting his intentions -- he even jump-started 2004's Vote for Change tour -- his spirited musical activism hasn't translated into a creative renaissance. We Shall Overcome, a Basement Tapes-style run-through of old-timey standards,is typical of the megastar's 21st-century predicament: He wants to be a simple folk hero, but his arena-size earnestness topples the songs' understated sentiments. Springsteen still turns out great performances -- his stirring "Devils & Dust" at the Grammys put a lump in any feeling person's throat -- but his vulnerability and humor seem to have vanished right along with our civil liberties.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.