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Posted: December 28, 2010

Springsteen revisits “Darkness” and unearths a couple more albums

Neil Young gets loose and loud on "Le Noise", plus Bob Dylan's early '60s demos

Mike Cote

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BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN The Promise (Columbia)

After his 1975 breakthrough album Born to Run got him on the covers of both Time and Newsweek in 1975, Bruce Springsteen was under intense pressure to produce a follow-up. Legal issues kept him from releasing another record for three years, but he didn't stop recording, amassing enough material to fill three albums before releasing 10 songs as Darkness on the Edge of Town.

On The Promise, Springsteen revisits the two albums he left behind more than 30 years ago. As strong as these 21 songs are, they make the case that the Boss made the right decision when he decided to focus on the hard-luck tales that would make up Darkness. As a companion piece, however, The Promise offers a great collection of Springsteen trying to find his way.

An alternative version of "Racing in the Street" features David Lindley on violin, suggesting Springsteen was envisioning that kind of instrumentation long before he added Soozie Tyrell to the band two decades later. The wistful "Candy's Boy," an early version of the song that would become "Candy's Room," features a carnival-style organ from the late Danny Federici; this sweet mid-tempo tune is a throwback to Springsteen's Asbury Park days, nothing like white-knuckle song he would distill for Darkness.

The lush ballad "Someday (We'll Be Together)," on which Springsteen croons like his hero Roy Orbison, underscores Springsteen's penchant for Phil Spector's production style. And the pair of hits Springsteen offered up to other artists - "Because the Night" and "Fire" - demonstrates that he was willing to sacrifice a run up the Top 40 for the sake of a cohesive album.

The Promise is available as a two-CD set or as part of the sprawling three-CD/three DVD The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story box set, which includes a remastered version of Darkness, a documentary film, new and vintage concert footage and other memorabilia.

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NEIL YOUNG Le Noise (Reprise)

The best way to describe Neil Young's Le Noise is to imagine one of his big, loud messy records with Crazy Horse -- without Crazy Horse.

Working with producer Daniel Lanois (Bob Dylan, U2), Young has created a 40-minute wall of sound brimming with distortion that has him musing on the nature of his celebrity ("The Hitchhiker"), his songwriting ("Love and War"), friendship and loss ("Walk With Me") and the strength of long relationships ("Sign of Love").

It's Young at his idiosyncratic best: maddening for fans who just want him to pump out another Harvest or Ragged Glory but fascinating if you're willing to let the singer/guitarist wander wherever his muse happens to take him in the seventh decade of his life.

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BOB DYLAN The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964 – The Bootleg Series Vol. 9 (Columbia)

The mythology surrounding Bob Dylan’s early years has long suggested a maverick bucking the system so this collection of 47 demos the young songwriter recorded for his publishers in a bid to get other musicians to record them tells a different story, one of a hungry artist trying to get his music heard.

These intimate recordings, featuring just Dylan on guitar and harmonica, and occasionally piano, offer a glimpse of his creative process. Some are fragments; some feature snippets of studio chatter. While many will be familiar to most Dylan fans – “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Masters of War,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” – 15 of the songs have never been officially released, including “The Death of Emmett Till” and “Ballad for a Friend.”

While the legend of Dylan would quickly rise in the early ’60s – as Peter, Paul and Mary, Stevie Wonder, Judy Collins and the Byrds scored hits with his songs – these recordings brings us back to the folk and blues roots that inspired his genius.

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BILLY JOEL The Hits (Columbia/Legacy)

This 19-song collection offers a good stocking stuffer for someone on your list who might like an introduction to the once-ubiquitous singer-songwriter. It's not all here - curiously "Just the Way You Are" and "Uptown Girl" didn't make the cut - but The Hits does a decent job sampling from Billy Joel's catalog, from the early "Everybody Loves You Know" to "The River of Dreams."

For fans, this set is really just a teaser for the remastering campaign that Columbia plans for 2011, which is scheduled to include some from-the-vault releases as well as new and expanded versions of all his albums.


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Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at mcote@cobizmag.com.

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