Lightning Rod Records celebrates thirty years of life after Born in the U.S.A with the recent release, Dead Man’s Town: A Tribute to Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. The Bruce Springsteen album was a turning point for musician on its came into the world on June 4, 1984 release date, leaning Springsteen and the E Street Band towards a Pop sound, foregoing the grim outlooks on his previous release, Nebraska. Born in the U.S.A was far from seeing contentment in its stories yet there was a promise of hope amid the destruction. The album became the biggest seller for 1985 and produced seven Top 10 singles, tying for the record with Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814. Born in the U.S.A. became Springsteen’s most successful album release, selling 15 million copies in the U.S on its release and 30 million records worldwide. The album was viewed as a back-pat by politicians that looked to use its success for their own, they only saw the flag on the cover, not the guy possible taking a leak with his back turned, nor did they hear the pissed-off guy in the lyrics taking aim for taking back our country.
Dead Man’s Town: A Tribute to Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. re-visits the album with contemporary artists, many of whom grew up and were educated by the original release. Jason Isbell slows “Born in the U.S.A.” to make the song a challenge to its main character. Amanda Shires is a key to the track. Her fiddle swoops and soars, and is particularly effectiveness when she plucks the notes in the verses to underscore husband Jason Isbell’s reading of the state of the nation through the eyes of one of its citizens. Jason crawls into the song, his vocals bearing the weight of a situation still, thirty years on, still an active cultural issue. The couple were intrigued by the mood as much as the song, Jason stating that ‘”Born in the U.S.A." is one of my favorites because so many people have seemingly misunderstood the lyrical content and the song's overall tone. When you listen to the demo, the dark, minor key arrangement makes it clear that this is not strictly a song of celebration. We wanted to stay true to that version." Amanda added that "I love that the song paints a picture of struggle in the face of the American dream, and the irony in the chorus is delivered with such force that it nearly transcends irony altogether.’
The darkness of the mood that surrounds the stories on Born in the U.S.A. becomes a lot clearer on the 30-year on tribute. Sonically, Dead Man’s Town bears a closer allegiance to Nebraska, defining the album tone with a wider range of soundscapes to create the same subtle echoes and textures. Justin Townes Earle bares the soul of “Glory Days” by creating the track with man and guitar, the only souvenirs left of the times in which the song lives. Ryan Culwell turns dusty pages of timeworn audio photos for “Bobby Jean”, Joe Pug follows the click beat of a snare drum to drive the rhythm on “Downbound Train” and Holly Williams gives “No Surrender” a free wind of freedom blowing through the tune’s exit plan.
A folk ramble to sound tracks “Goin’ Down” (Trampled by Turtles) and “Working on the Highway” (Blitzen Trapper) while electric chords snarls frame “I’m on Fire” (Low) and flow like mist through “Cover Me” (The Apache Relay). Dead Man’s Town: A Tribute to Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. owes a debt to the production masterfully maintaining a mood that threads the songs together. Co-executive produced by Logan Rogers and Evan Schlansky, with production contributions from Dave Cobb (whose production credits include for Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell), it is the way the songs interact with Roots music sound bed that links the release to the original Born in the U.S.A. tracks presented with a more Pop sound for the seaside bar band rock of the E Street Band.
“Darlington County” sticks to a rock’n’roll swagger from Quaker City Nighthawks and North Mississippi All Stars provide a delta backbeat, southern harmonies and honey-sweet horns to welcome back “My Hometown”. On an album of top shelf performances, Nicole Atkins rendition of “Dancing in the Dark” deserves special attention. She delivers her vocals in a dark room, making sure that every light in the house is off before her vocals begin. Nicole makes it a personal message, the thoughts in her head lining up on the tracks snaking, jittery rhythms. Dead Man’s Town: A Tribute to Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A reminds us of the worth of Bruce Springsteen’s original release and points to future glory for the Roots music as it remakes the album with a sepia-tones majesty that adds another facet to its diamond status.
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