Given the state of the economy it seems appropriate to review The Ghost Of Tom Joad.
The character of Tom Joad entered the American consciousness in John Steinbeck’s 1939 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Grapes Of Wrath, set against the economic hardships of the Great Depression. This spawned a film version starring Henry Fonda, which in turn inspired folk singer Woody Guthrie to pen “The Ballad Of Tom Joad.” In late 1995, inspired by these sources, Bruce Springsteen presented his own modern day interpretation of the themes surrounding this character.
The Ghost Of Tom Joad is essentially a modern day folk album exploring the underbelly of society. The stories of the homeless, destitute, lost, and forgotten are told with themes of social repression and indifference confronting the listener with stark images and messages. While this album has been compared to Nebraska, I find that the characters here exhibit a resilience that those of Nebraska lack, suggesting a possibility of hope.
The lyrics are the most important component of this release. I have always found it interesting that despite the fact that Springsteen is a huge, wealthy star, he can plumb the depths of the American working class soul so well. This is definitely an album that needs to be listened to closely, something that is all too rare these days. The title track especially is really a visionary creation. It's a real indication of Springsteen’s genius that he would think to use Steinbeck as a unifying theme in the creation of an album.
“Highway 29” is a moody, eerie tale of life gone terribly wrong. “The Line” may be the most emotional track on the album as it deals with the topics of poverty and desperation. “Youngstown” returns Springsteen to the factory with a tale of war veterans and depression. The darkest and most unforgiving song is “Balboa Park” dealing with drugs and the selling of one's self.
The Ghost Of Tom Joad is a brilliant creation from the mind of Bruce Springsteen. It marked another in a long line of surprising turns in his recording career. His continued ability to resonate with the public while maintaining artistic integrity has been rare in rock history. This is an album that will pull you in and stay with you.