Bruce Springsteen returned in April of 2005 with Devils & Dust, which, in songs of turmoil and through his use of American imagery, recalled his creative past.
The work garnered five Grammy Awards, including one for Best Contemporary Folk Album as well as honors for Song Of The Year, Best Rock Song and Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance for the title track.
For me, though, Devils & Dust is yet another Springsteen album that rarely comes off my shelf. Perhaps it's because this is not an album to be taken lightly as it requires a certain amount of effort, concentration, and thought from the listener. And while I find some songs to be strong, others tend to meander, which decreases the album's overall focus, cohesiveness and sense of purpose.
An issue that arose upon its release concerned its dual disc format, with the flip (DVD) side of the disc containing acoustic tracks and commentary by Springsteen. Such an approach was all well and good in its intent, but the DVD wouldn't play on a number of machines. In other words, beware of the original printing.
Springsteen returned to the use of character studies, which allowed him to once again offer commentaries on American life. It's a sparse album sonically, yet there are some synthesizers, background vocals and even a sitar at times.
The title track is a personal statement by Springsteen, telling of how troops are fighting with God on their side and there are serious decisions to be made. “Silver Palomino” explores loss and hope through the death of a teenager’s mother. “Reno” is a story of an encounter with a prostitute wrapped around the theme of lost love. “The Hitter” uses a boxer’s narrative to present the cruelties of life and the need for a respite. “Matamoros Banks” is Springsteen at his storytelling best, recounting a tale of a dying immigrant.
“Maria’s Bed,” “All The Way Home” and “Long Time Comin’” make for more of a positive listening experience, especially when driving down the road.
Devils & Dust is just an odd fit for me within the context of Springsteen’s catalog as it feels like a hybrid of Nebraska and Human Touch. Still, it finds Springsteen, in his mid-fifties, exploring mature themes within his uniquely American musical framework. It’s a good place to visit now and then.