Typically, a musician releases a cover version at two points in their career: the beginning, when they may not have enough original songs to last a 45-minute live set, and the very end, when they have nothing left to prove and simply want to sing the songs they've always liked. (And, of course, thirdly, when they foolishly decide that the world requires yet another Christmas record.)
Bruce Springsteen, 73, is merely experiencing nostalgia. In recent years, he has also completed a one-man Broadway show and his autobiography. He reunited with his E Street Band for his most recent album, Letter to You, which featured three songs he'd written the year before he dropped his debut. So why not also enjoy some of the R&B and soul music from the 1960s that he remembers from his teen years?
On the album's opening title track, a female background quartet can be heard repeatedly saying, "I remember." Two relatively new tracks, however, perfectly capture the essence of the endeavour: The Commodores' 1985 song Nightshift pays homage to Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson, both of whom passed away the year before; Dobie Wilson's 2000 song Soul Days recalls that lovely sound of youth. Springsteen sings over swaying horns and mellow organ notes, "Those yesterdays/Cruising in my Chevrolet/I cradled my kid in my arms/But my first love was always the music."
Apart from its horn section, the E Street Band is not present. This was a more relaxed project that producer Ron Aniello and engineer Rob Lebret worked on late at night during lockdown limitations. Compared to his most well-known work, the approach is gentler and less of a massive wall of sound, yet Bruce Springsteen's gruff, worn-out voice works well for soul. He sustains an extremely long note on The Four Tops' When She Was My Girl, lending weight to the instrumentation's moderately groovy feel.
The song selection demonstrates that this is content that has been gathered with affection rather than as a quick shot at the top of the charts. The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore, which is loyal to the Walker Brothers original, and Jimmy Ruffin's Motown classic What Becomes of the Brokenhearted are perhaps the songs that people are most familiar with. Except for diehard soul fans, a couple of the others might sound unfamiliar, but nothing here will be unwelcome when he performs two massive concerts in Hyde Park the following summer.