When Bruce Springsteen took the Acura Stage at the 2006 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, he was joined by his Seeger Sessions Band, named after his folk album released that year in tribute to genre pioneer Pete Seeger.
The crowds and critics looked to Springsteen at that moment — a socially conscious music world heavyweight stripping away E Street Band theatrics during the first Jazz Fest following Hurricane Katrina and the federal floods — for some kind of hope in the storm's wake. The band closed with a solemn, hymn-like rendering of "When the Saints Go Marching In."
It was his bow to the city, and it's a pledge that anchors Springsteen's Wrecking Ball, released earlier this year. In opening salvo "We Take Care of Our Own," Springsteen pledges his allegiance, and name checks a particular heartland, well beyond working class New Jersey: "We take care of our own, wherever this flag is flown. ... From Chicago to New Orleans from the muscle to the bone, from the shotgun shack to the Superdome."
Wrecking Ball, Springsteen's 17th studio LP, is the Boss in the middle of rage. He simmered on stories of loss and decay, like on 1978's Darkness on the Edge of Town and 1980's The River. Now he's boiling. Forever the optimist, Springsteen is never bitter or cynical, but he's not shy about unleashing an indictment of corporate greed and its impact on the people he long has championed, whether in ironic pop in 1982's Born in the U.S.A., 2002's post-9/11 The Rising, or now on Wrecking Ball. It spans bombastic E Street guitars, Irish folk-punk, Seeger Session folk and street gospel.
It's also an album marred by death — not just his American dream, but also longtime saxophone sideman Clarence Clemons, who died last year from complications of a stroke. The death dealt a massive blow to Springsteen, whose camaraderie with Clemons extended from their very first meeting in 1971. The E Street Band is not merely Springsteen's backing band, but an extension of him, on and offstage. It's fitting that Clemons' replacement is family, his nephew Jake Clemons.