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Music Review: Bruce Springsteen – Magic

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It's been a long time. How many years? Oh, 23 or so. 1984. That was the year that Born In The U.S.A. came out. That was the year that I got out of school, felt lonely, spent too much money on records and beer, got a job, got married.

It was also the last time that a new Springsteen album came out exclusively on vinyl. Records. You know, those big black circles?

Tonight I got home to relive a big part of my past. Those who are purely from the digital age might not get this, but the unwrapping of the album and the first examination of the package is important. The cellophane comes off and the album unfolds. The artwork, the lyrics, the liner notes, heck, even the smell — all part of the experience. I'm instantly transported back through all of those years of listening to records, growing into adulthood, and trying to figure it all out.

Things are a little different now. Of course, I'm a different person. So is Bruce. And then there's the technology. Not that leaks were impossible in the past, but today, the Internet and the digital transmission of music have made early bootlegging quite common. This goes both ways. Many of us were quite sure that the "leak" of the single "Radio Nowhere" was intentional, an example of the new "viral marketing." The reasons for releasing Magic on vinyl are in question as well: is it an early boost for next week's CD release, or a cynical move that qualifies the record for the 2007 Grammy cycle.

Everything is in question, amplified by the ever-present Internet chatter. Why did Bruce do this? Why did he do that? Why did he not do that? He can't be sincere, he's worth too much money! Patti is the E-Street Yoko. Clarence is too old. Oh, and let's not get started on the political statements. Obviously, Springsteen has forgotten his roots and has become mired in a greasy pool of self-indulgence.

Don't you believe it.

I've listened to Magic twice this evening. There are echoes of Bruce's recent past, his middle years, and most definitely his roots. Put plainly, the record flat-out rocks. Walls of sound. There are grinding guitars, pounding drums, ghostly keyboards, piano, glockenspiel, snarling guitar solos, harmonica, melodies galore, cool vocal harmonies … and Clarence. The BigMan. The longtime friend. The anchor. Bruce's singing on Magic takes some interesting turns as well, with swooping melodies pitted against a few very different song structures. While listening to "Girls In Their Summer Clothes," I scribbled down "…I've never heard Bruce sing like this before."

Magic ends with the hidden track "Terry's Song," a heartfelt tribute to his longtime friend Terry Magovern, who passed away at the end of July. One line brings into focus the many reasons why I love this music, and why music in general is so important to me: "Love is a power greater than death."

As I've said before, it's not "just" music.

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About Mark Saleski

  • From the opening arpeggiated clang of the misfortunately titled “Radio Nowhere” to the implied intimacy of the “bonus track,” longtime Bruce fans will certainly believe that “The Boss” is back in form.
    The new CD entitled Magic opens with the ironically accusing “Radio Nowhere” which sounds as if it is quoting the desk-side wastebasket of beloved 90s alternative rockers, The Smithereens. The doggerel “Drivin’ through the misty rain/searchin’ for a mystery train” provides the type of imagery and rhyme that earns an encouraging “B” in a high school creative writing class. The “scathing” commentary on the state of the airways falls flat as the second tune, “You’ll be Comin’ Down,” makes you want to not only change the station, but turn the radio off in favor of the mile-worn overhead cam of your Plymouth minivan, your mind desperately hoping that Bruce uses the profit from said album to buy “The Big Man” Clemmons a new riff.
    Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not a hands-down Bruce-hater. I always reserve hope for that un-conscientious exuberant Jersey swang that adorned our ears with “Rosalita”, “Born to Run”, “The River” and even the lesser “Out in the Street” or “Dancin’ in the Dark”. In these examples, the character within the songs was believable, and you could even forgive him for stealing James Brown’s stage collapse routine (it will never be cool, regardless what your 12 pack brother-in-law thinks.)
    The brilliance that the un-photographed Bruce Id is capable of is often restrained by the sturdy-safe musicianship of his E-Street cronies. Their idea of getting “down” is probably concurrent with the “down” of a Pat Sajak-centered universe. The prevailing thick arrangements and production values envision a crowded mix-down room, where hints at Jersey badness are rendered unconvincing as everyone is equally given short shrift. (How many guys does it take to have a band anyway?)
    “Livin’ in the Future” should have been the opening cut on this project. The promise is briefly delivered on with a great intro, comparatively smokin’ groove and a rare simmering B3 solo at the forefront of the mix. Clarence again phones in the sample of his earlier work, but is forgiven because his haircut is no longer ridiculous.
    The filler tunes (we need more songs) occur having melody lines so weak that they should be in a physician’s care— discover carnivalesque piano/organ fills better suited to intentionally misdirected Christmas carols and “AH, AH,” choruses and “La La” outros which under a crueler regime would be marched out in a field and shot. “Girls in Summer Clothes” is something Jackson Browne could have used to clean up a coffee spill in 1984, and in spite of the bitchin’ kick drum and sinister minor key, the nearly cool title cut sounds like Leonard Cohen’s voice mail.
    Perhaps most disappointing is the fact that “The Bruce’s” lyricism reflects the Broadway shtick of his live enactments. This is most definitively illustrated by obvious efforts at sophistication in “I’ll Work for your Love” and the affected vocal of “Devil’s Arcade,” where “the man who saved rock ‘n roll” seems satisfied with being a convincing character actor (complements of Jon Landau). Bruce might even have stolen some of these tunes from his own ashbin.
    As a peripheral Bruce fan, his best could make the hair on your neck stand, but his worst was always better than Journey. I remain hopeful that he will return someday.
    P.S. The bonus track could have been swept up from Steve Earle’s jail cell circa 1996.
    JS Mundane Zaibatsu Heavy MFG.

  • cleagora73

    its not music its magic

  • Amanda

    Bruce rocks, and always will! I have always been and will always be a huge fan of Bruce Springsteen! I was stoked when I found a station that plays Bruce along with a ton of other great classic rock, alternative country, and americana…suuuuch a good mix! I started working for Lone Star 92.5 because they play the best music outta Dallas! Check out http://www.lonestar925.com and scope the playlist…you’ll be glad you did 🙂

  • Chad

    I have listened to this record many times now and as far as I am concerned it si great. There are many great hooks and then of course take the content of the songs. The lyrics are real and moving. This is what Bruce and the E Street Band are all about.

  • bill

    The one thig that vinyl delivers that CD’s can never do, is that sense of sonic boom from the speakers Cd’s are just too clinical. Magic, grows on me as i type, it may never surpass B to R but like bruce we are that much older now are we not

    as Neil says ………. it is better to burn out than to fade way

  • Mike P.

    I was on a forced visit to see my mother-in-law yesterday and was looking for a radio station to listen to. Picked up a rock station playing what I later found out was Girls In Their Summer Clothes. This song was all I could think of till I got home and downloaded it on itunes. And now this song is just looping on my ipod.

    I haven’t bought a Springsteen album since Born in the USA (I do have all the prior ones) but after Radio Nowhere and Girls…, I going out to buy the CD today, not buy the songs on itunes, I want the album experience, or at least what’s left of it.

    The man’s a classic. No crap. No pretension. He just gives it to you as he sees it. I love that what I’ve heard so far harkens back to some of the better 60’s stuff.

  • Mike

    So, these comments then beg the question, “What was O’Brien thinking?” What sound was he going for? Did anyone in Bruce’s camp listen to the finished master? How could anyone possibly think that muddied, mostly distorted vocals make this a standout pop record? Is anybody else today releasing work to the public that SOUNDS like this?
    Yes, the songs are great; but if they’re hard to listen to, what’s the point? And I don’t have a coupla hundred bucks to or the time to stand in line for tickets to a show–I depend on his album releases for my Bruce fix–and he’s let me down severely with this one.

  • tommygun

    the producer did a good job on THE RISING . an a half good job on DEVILS AN DUST . but with this its like a 3rd of a good job .. This album however even with the poor production in alot of parts is one of his very best an it is an album i cant stop playing

    maybe if the production (the overly distorted an reverb vocals on some of the tracks) was not done so badly this could be his very best album

    I think its time to get another producer or produce themselfs .. what he does to bruces voice on some of these tracks is unforgiveble ..too much reverb an distortion to tell what he is saying in parts .. an the sad thing is .. you can tell he is singing clearly enuff . its just the shitty sound quality that makes it so hard to hear what he is singing on some of the songs … He will do them live an everyone will hear all the words

    the producer seems to turn bruces voice too low

    just look at the seegar sessions .. his voice is better than ever on that ..his voice is still as great if not better than it ever was .. so why are producers messing with it .. its a great voice which everyone wants to hear CLEARLY


    other than that what a damn good record
    an the music is awesome/perfect . the vocals are awesome/perfect .. its just the way they were produced an sound like they been played on an out of tune shit sound quality old fashioned Wireless Radio .. like the ones the old folks used to play while working in the shops lol

  • hml

    Listened to the CD 2 or 3 times now. It is growing on me and there are potentially some real “stand-out” tracks, but the production is truly awful with The Boss almost unintelligible at times. Also, my copy has two CDs but no album notes, lyrics etc so as the production is so poor, a lot of the time I have no idea what he is actually saying!

  • thomas

    It seems to me that I’ve seen “Girls In Their Summer Clothes” cited everywhere as sounding like a Brian Wilson song, but it sounds all Magnetic Fields to me.

  • Mike

    The songs are great; the production renders the album unlistenable. Most of the vocals and the cymbal crashes (never a part of Springsteen’s sound) are virtually distorted. There’s a high-pitched “scratch” sound under most of the tracks (I’m listening to “Living In The Future” as I type this and the vocal track IS distorted. This is not “Wall Of Sound” or “Pet Sounds”-like; it’s just unprofessional producing–something that was rushed to market. It’s a horrible record with great songs–and it’s unlistenable (are those supposed to be sleigh bells on “Your Own Worst Enemy?” I honestly can’t tell, it’s just unnecessary noise.

  • Production… O’Brien, to my ears, has never been about pristine clarity – he’s always been about muscle. No, Magic doesn’t have the brighntess of The River, or the gloss of Born in the USA, or even the 21st century textures of O’Brien’s own production of The Rising, but this album sounds more like a band effort than anything Bruce has done in years. Listen to the growling bass on Radio Nowhere – or is that some fret rattling Stratocaster echoing the bottom end? Not clean at all, and justifiably so. There’s been lots said about the Phil Spector appropach on this album, but again, you don’t marvel at the production, which isn’t even a good imitation of the “Wall of Sound” technique, but you hear the sound of the E Street Band bringing a lifetime of experience to the songs that makes every note count, even if you don’t think you’re hearing it.

    I’ll take O’Brien over most other producers 9 times out 10, and number ten would likely have to be either Rick Rubin or even Little Steven himself.

  • The songs on the album are great.
    I’ve listened to this album in the car, in various stereos in the house, on speakers, on headphones and….
    did I say that I thought the songs were great!?
    I think this album could also have been great, but I’d say it’s only good.
    Well, I mentioned that I listened to it on different stereos and locations and the same thing struck me each time. The production by Brendan O’Brien, IMHO, is a criminal offense. Perhaps there’s a special statute in the NJ Criminal Code of Justice that stipulates if you screw up a Bruce album, you shall serve time. Yeah, yeah, O’Brien’s a famous producer. Blah. Blah. Blah. But what he does to Bruce deserves an early Mischief Night’s egging of his house. Muddy sounding cymbals. Garbled guitar solos (which are minimal, to boot). Clarence? Was Clarence sitting out most of the songs?

    I’m sure that in concert Bruce & the E-Street boys will be doing “Magic” right, giving the songs from the album a clarity that O’Brien elected to leave out. A shame, since, have I already said it? The songs are great.

  • sarh ireland

    give me a shout…just love springsteen …the sad thing is i dont know anyone else who does…but of course i know best… dont i!

  • sarah ireland

    Girls In Their Summer Clothes..Is a suprize,its great,cant stop playing it.living in the future,good ole e street band stuff.
    love bruces harm in gypsy biker..

  • Mitch

    I’ve listened to the album all the way through twice now, and it keeps on growing.

    I was very impressed by the album from the very start, although not all of the songs grabbed me. They all seemed to be solid… but I thought that none of them were exceptionally unique except for “Radio Nowhere,” “Livin’ in the Future” and “Long Walk Home.”

    But now, less than twenty-four hours after buying it, the other songs are already reaching out. I can’t get enough of “Girls In Their Summer Clothes” and “I’ll Work For Your Love.”

    Like most Springsteen products, this album is deepr than it appears on the surface, and it’s not for people wanting an easy-to-swallow does of shallow pop music with nothing to offer but catchy choruses.

    This is very good rock music with enough thought and depth to make it great.

  • Daniel

    Yeah, this album is already a “classic”. With terrific songs like “I´ll work for your love” and “Long walk home” how can do you go wrong?
    Great record indeed.

  • jo boo!

    favorite song at them moment: I’ll work for your love.
    Springsteen has never been the most gifted wordsmith in the rock god pantheon. For every thunder road, there’s a factory.
    But dammit if there aren’t some exceptional–albeit, dark–lyrics on this album.
    He’s a great example of an artist who is only getting better. And that’s rare in the pop music universe.

  • Wolvesfan

    Hey Jersey Boy, “is there anybody alive out there?”. Maybe not.
    God Bless you Bruce.

  • Neil Young

    Love the reverb on this album!
    Long live analog….

  • yay! the first naysayer. woo! so, you’ve actually heard the album. ah right, you don’t need to.

    good for you.


  • jersey boy

    Amazing that a piece of crap album is so “critically acclaimed.” Anybody who thinks Springsteen has an ounce of talent needs to have their ears examined. I grew up in Jersey and have hated this poser from day one. How much does he pay for good reviews of crap?

  • tommygun

    CLASSIC BOSS(songs i play)
    LONG WALK HOME(essential bruce . this has everything that i would expect from a great bruce composition . great lyrics . awesome music .sentimentality an driving groove . excellent .one of his best songs yet)

    RADIO NOWHERE (well well well . hear it comes crashing in opening the new album .great comeback song! . very rocking .very BRUCE. just made to be sang live! ..one of his catchiest songs ever . an the intensity of the performance makes it sound like one of his most urgent – very good song an i would also call this essential bruce)

    LIVIN IN THE FUTURE ( can’t help but love this song . catchy as hell .awesome playing an performance. just musically rich an joyous like Tenthe Avenue/Hungry Heart ..It just sounds like an E-STEET PARTY from start to finnish an everyones alive an kicking an playing beautifully . great lyrics an very well sang . just cant get enuff of this song an is not the kinda song i expected from bruce these days . but very pleasent suprize even if a little of it is the nostalgia)

    I’LL WORK FOR YOUR LOVE (if this is the work .lets get married last week lol .. love the song . love the lyric .really love the vocal . just powers its out in the way only bruce can . yet again great music an extremley nice piano tinkles . everything happens at the right time here . which makes it quite a perfect little song indeed an liberatingly sang)

    GIRLS IN THERE SUMMER CLOSE (here we go .beach boys eat your hearts out. very well produced beatutiful little song. this is a kinda song an hit the boss has always been capable of but seldom does . WAITIN ON A SUNNY DAY .did i hear u say? .. yeah i thought that aswell . still awesome an one of them songs u just wanna play again an again ..an again lol .. catching a vibe like this on record isnt easy but he done again . love it!
    only complaint would be . maybe just a little less reverb woulda helped the song 4 my ears)

    MAGIC (here he goes again with another one of those songs that makes you realise as a lyric writer he just has an edge over everyone else. deeper than it appears .this is a song you will sink into an let the wizard take u on a journey which seems different everytime you play it . Musically quite a unique musical cocktail .an awesome mystical concoption that is a song . that is MAGIC! #)

    TERRYS SONG ( the un mentioned bonus track . stripped down an bare unlike the rest of the album . but thats not a bad thing for this song . thats how it works an how its ment to be . very beatufil lyric written for a longtime friend who passed away recently . an written in a way that only one man could write ..he sings ‘when they built you brother they broke the mold’ .. which is exactly how most people feel about Bruce aswell .. He is just a one off . no-one has what it is this guy has an no-one can copy it effectively . a style all of his own . which is why he will always have devoted fans . you can’t get this kinda thing anywhere else an by anyone else .. classic song by a classic artist)

    YOUR OWN WORST ENEMY (i wouldnt put this in the top league of Springsteen songs . not even in the top league of this album .. but its a very nice little song .an is bruce doing what he does best . singing about real people an real things . an is really refreshing that it is less deep an more of a straight forward problem he tackles here . great lyric .. pretty good little song .. produced beach boys style .. can’t help but like this song . but still aint up there with the big boys)

    GYSPY BIKER (ugly song-bad vocal. just not clear enuff . Harmonic similar to EMPTY SKY another poor song lol .. Dissing aside . it is pretty good in its own rite an has something about .just dont have enuff to make me wanna play it too much)

    LAST TO DIE (80s staduim rock. he done this kinda thing to death But BON JOVI fans will dig it . i gotta confess if i am in the mood to play this one i will enjoy it. but i aint often in the mood . big pompous power rock which i heard him do before an better . but never really liked it much then either .. i guess other people will)

    YOU’LL BE COMMING DOWN(why is this track 2? ..so much reverb on the vocals its almost completely unlistenable .. that is the fault of the song . its just way too much reverb for my ears to hear a big bulk of the lyrics or appreciate the vocal cos its lost in ugly echos ..the song itself aint too bad . but aint great either )

    DEVILS ARCADE(classy an pretty nice . but very erie which makes it less appealing to my ears . definetley a good song . just not one i feel i wanna play much .. same as Worlds Apart . just can’t get into it an feel like i don’t wanna wast 5 mins of my life playing this when i can skip to something better lol)

    good album – main complaint would be too much reverb on some of the vocals especially You’ll Be Comming Down – Gyspy Biker an Girls In There Summer Close – theres so much veverb that its sometimes hard to hear the lyrics in the echo – its a shame cos bruce sounds like he is singing them well an very clear – for that reason alone they will sound better live – Turn the reverb down on the vocals – It works well on most parts – but some songs suffer badley because of it …that aside its ONE OF HIS BEST ALBUMS ..an up there with THE RIVER . THE RISING . DARKNESS ect ect

  • hey jerseygirl, that’s true. though for most folks at the time it was still strictly vinyl, certainly for me anyway. i do remember looking at the cds that were under the counter (there might have been a dozen of them).

  • jerseygirl

    Um–I hate to mention this since I really like your review, but Born in the USA did NOT come out exclusively on vinyl. In fact it was the very first record to also be issued as a CD!!

  • JC Mosquito

    Y’know, I’d agrree – a weak Bruce album is better than most everybody else’s regular albums. But I suppose a Madnnoa fan, or Michael Jackson fan might say the same thing about those artists. The important distinction here is that Bruce makes ROCK and ROLL ALBUMS, which is a much different beast than a pop album.

    If nothing else, I hope “Magic” helps distinguish the difference for all those who have forgotten, or maybe even never knew there was a difference.

  • tommygun

    Springsteen doesnt just make standard albums. He makes classics, & more than any other great artist i can name his new stuff is as important an as good as his old stuff . Only had a temp dip with Human Touch an Lucky Town which coulda had people thinking that the ‘Magic’ had left, but bow golly he has redeemed himself as one of the most important songwriters/artists ever since then . An them two albums are pretty good anyway . just not in the classic/high standards we expect from Springsteen . He is the best!

  • lee

    Great review an comments . always good to hear what the other people are feeling about it . What can i say . Bruce is just awesome . DEVILS AN DUST .SEEGAR SESSIONS an MAGIC his last 3 albums an they all have a COMPLETELY different sound . that to an none fan . they would think it was a different artist on each album .. I’d say this album has some very good songs on it an as with all bruce albums theres new songs to add to the ESSENTIAL COLLECTION .. RADIO NOWHERE .. LONG WALK HOME .. ect ect .. i say ect ect .. cos almost all of these songs belong there .. the whole thing plays well from start to finnish .. GIRLS IN THERE SUMMER CLOSE is definetely a track that gets stuck in your head an makes you feel good

  • Congrats! This article has been forwarded to the Advance.net websites and Boston.com.

  • Ahhh…the sweet smell of vinyl. Made better by the “Boss”, who not only knows how to rock and roll, he was there when they invented it!


  • Whats that lyric somebody once wrote about “trying to tell a stranger about rock and roll”?

    Seems that writer believed in Magic too.


  • A cliched yet somehow accurate quote taken from the end of the classic era, by a youth who should have known better:

    “Rock and roll lives on in the hearts and minds of those who yet believe.”

    You’re making me jealous – best wishes, peace and noise to you, Mark.

  • i understand what you’re saying…but this just feels different.

    and let me tell you what i’m putting myself through at the moment…

    i’m sitting on the floor of my listening room with my laptop on the floor. a cable is running to the back of my preamp…i’m converting the analog to digital because i can’t bear to be without this stuff until tuesday.

    …and it’s about ninety degrees in here because i’m not turning on the ac, it’ll drown out the music.

    i’m sweating my ass off.

    it feels good.

  • Gentlemen –

    Far be it for me to throw cold water over an album of such import, but let’s see if it holds up on repeated listenings. Personally, I think it will: Bruce here does again what he has always done best – take thekey elements of the classic sound and put them into a modern context. That’s why the glocks & stuff always work – it’s Phil Spector a la 1962 brought kicking and screaming into the twenty first century. And this is why Tunnel of Love, Human Touch, Lucky Town & some of that later 80’s /early 90s stuff didn’t go over – the wonky synthesizer drones were already outdated and considered passe.

    It took 9/11 and the focussing on the creation of The Rising to remind Bruce how timeless he always was, and is – and this new album, though it might end up not being a great one, is pretty darn close anyways. But we’ll see on subsequent listenings – who knows? As one magic rat one sang, “There’s magic in the night – you ain’t a beauty, but hey, you’re alright.”


  • and you were right!


  • told ya! 😉

  • Not to shill for our advertisers or anything, but if you see an ad on this page saying “hear Bruces album” for a station called I think Q104 or something, that link actually does work.

    It takes to a site where you can actually hear the entire album (albeit with occasional irritating “hear it first” type drops placed within the songs).

    I listened to it three times last night, and it is easily the most straight ahead rock thing from Bruce/E Street since BITUSA. MUCH more consistently “the big rock noise” than The Rising was.

    Fave tracks: Gypsy Biker; Girls In Their Summer Clothes; Long Walk Home; and…oh hell, all of them okay?

    Its a great album.


  • Gav

    Great review…and what a great return to form for the E Street Band.

    I struggled to warm to The Rising-the album was overproduced with too many weak songs alongside the couple of great cuts.

    This album is different-it’s a return to the BIG E-Street Sound. And the songs are of an altogether higher quality.Ironically the opening song and first radio release “Radio Nowhere” is arguably the weakest track on the album.

    Wonderful songs follow, with “Girls in Their Summer Clothes” and “Your Own Worst Enemy” ranking as instant classics. “Long Walk Home” and “Devil’s Arcade” are epic Springsteen tracks that rate alongside his best work on any album.
    There’s an 80’s feel to this sound, but also a large slice of Phil Spectre, and a measure of 60’s Beach Boys at times.

    It’s a terrific album

  • Like I said – it’s streaming on MSN Sympatico – a great warm up for those of us waiting for the CD.

  • Great work, Mark. Your description of the vinyl experience is a great testament to the beauty of the physical artifact. The CD doesn’t deliver quite the same experience, but I have many of those same feelings when I buy one — feelings I don’t get from simple downloading. I’m not knocking digital — as you know I’ve got a 160GB iPod Classic — but there are some things digital can’t be.

    As for the album, I’ve gone to great lengths to hear nothing but the first single. I cannot wait to hear the rest.

  • The Zug

    You’re dead on. It’s a great, great album, the kind I really didn’t expect to hear again.

  • I’ve heard just a snippet of “Girls In Their Clothes” and it reminded me of a cross between Born To Run era E Street and Brian Wilson. But that was based on like 30 seconds. And now you tell me theres GLOCK? When was the last time Bruce used glock on a freaking record anyway?

    Holy Freaking F**k, I can’t wait for this record! How much do I gotta bribe ya for to burn me one Saleski??

    Seriously, how much?

    (Ooops! There goes my “rep” for objectivity…)


  • Nikki

    On unwrapping the album:

    Perfectly put! The nice thing about buying vinyl is that the person is forced to take in all those sensory experiences with a record. I, myself, do not know many people with a turntable hooked up in their car. You can’t just pop it in a listen to it on the way home like you could with a CD. Normally the excitement gets the best of you and you unwrap it once you sit down and begin to revel in every bit of information it can give. Or at least I do. I’m glad someone else realizes that as an important part of the vinyl experience.

    And the hidden track was a nice surprise the second time I listened to the album. Very touching.

    Thanks for the read,