The tribute album concept not only continues to flourish, but it’s also expanding to reconsider albums of great significance. The latest subject of scrutiny, Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The U.S.A., provides another opportunity for a diverse group of artists to a selection of songs that all had hit potential, and, more importantly, became landmarks of individual merit. What’s especially interesting here is that for the most part, the participating artists eschew the usual inclination to stay true to the original template, choosing instead to veer off and add their own feel to the proceedings without reverence or regard for the patented approach.
As a result, Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires steer the title track away from its robust, anthem-like call to arms and turn it instead into a hushed and somber reflection of allegiance gone wrong. Holly Williams takes a similar tack with her take on “No Surrender,” wrapping this once vibrant rocker in the silken sheen of beautiful balladry. Nicole Atkins manages to do the same with the once celebratory “Dancing in the Dark” yielding sumptuous results in the process.
That’s not to say all the artists involved abandon the original premise. Ryan Culwell, perhaps the least known artist here, sounds the most like the Boss on his interpretation of “Bobby Jean.” Likewise, North Mississippi Allstars and Trampled By Turtles’ versions of “My Hometown” and “I’m Goin’ Down,” respectively, still manage to keep the pace and feel of the original renditions intact.
Great songs always deserve a revisit, and in the case of an album that found every song a standout, the tribute treatment is especially effective. Suffice it to say, Dead Man’s Town provides one of those remarkable returns.
– Lee Zimmerman