Bruce Springsteen’s fans are familiar with his rousing encores, when he kicks out the jams on soul or rock ’n’ roll chestnuts. To the faithful, an album’s worth of soul covers is but a minor surprise. More surprising are the terms of engagement: in almost every instance the Boss duplicates the classic arrangements of the original hits. So you get the familiar sonic touchstones of styles denoting the songs’ Memphis, Chicago, and Motown (and points south) origins with the raspy, heavy baritone Bruce voice. David Ruffin raging against the elements on “I Wish It Would Rain” was not Bruce Springsteen any more than Bruce Springsteen is emulating David Ruffin when he takes the lyrics to an even darker, more apocalyptic place. The versions of “Only the Strong Survive” by Jerry Butler and Elvis are both great recordings, and Bruce seems to acknowledge them as unsurpassable by transforming the song into a gospel housewrecker with commanding Julius Cheeks-like testifying. Whether he’s grooving with Sam Moore on Dobie Gray’s “Soul Days” or conjuring the faux heartbreak of William Bell’s Stax gem “Any Other Way,” the Boss sounds in his element, doing something deep and meaningful to him, touching down in his past and luxuriating in every moment.
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