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.
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