Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Album Review - Dead Man’s Town: A Tribute to Born in the U.S.A.

In connection with the 30th anniversary of Born in the U.S.A., independent record label Lightning Rod Records created Dead Man’s Town: A Tribute to Born in the U.S.A. The album – in which 12 bands cover one of the 12 tracks from Born in the U.S.A. – is a somber, minimalist interpretation designed to cut to the emotional core of the songs, stripping away all pop affectations.

The artists featured include Jason Isbell & Amanda Shire, Low, Trampled by Turtles, and Justin Townes Earle. Each artist puts their own spin on their respective track. Some sound like you’d expect a slower cover to sound, and some sound very different. For example, Holly Williams’ version of “No Surrender” won’t sound that striking to anyone who has heard one of Bruce’s acoustic renditions, but Apache Relay’s eerie take on “Cover Me” feels very foreign indeed (and somewhat reminiscent of an Arcade Fire song). I also really liked Joe Pug’s musical arrangement on “Downbound Train” and it’s always fun for me to hear personal favorite “I’m Goin’ Down” in any variation.

I’m always curious to hear covers of Springsteen songs because they can reveal new sides of the lyrics, reframe the story, reposition the tone, and frankly, they’re just often easier to understand than the originals. As such, I leapt at the chance to listen to Dead Man's Town, especially on the heels of spending so much time with Born in the U.S.A. this summer. I wasn’t familiar with any of the bands featured on the album before listening, and I can’t say I’ll be seeking out any of them further, but they all mesh together very nicely here. It doesn’t feel jarring at all to switch between artists at every track.

The record company has done a nice job creating a cohesive album here – one that’s perfectly suited to accompany moments of contemplative soul searching while staring out a rainy window. I can’t say you'll find any of these tracks on a best Springsteen covers list, but the album certainly captures an overall mood and feel very effectively.

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