The Daily Tar Heel

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Monday January 24th

To be The Boss: Stark disc is the best for tribute

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It’s fitting that members of Red Collar, Midtown Dickens and other local bands would choose to tribute Nebraska. There is no record in all of Bruce Springsteen’s illustrious catalog so ready-made for homage.

The 10 haunting folk treatments on this 1982 essential are nothing but the raw essence of The Boss.

It precedes the synth-propelled new wave of his 1984 Born in the USA. It catches him after he’s outgrown the youthful pop impulse to be “Born to Run.”

Nebraska takes Springsteen’s bleeding heart populism to its grimmest extremes. His howls echo in the lo-fi background of guitar-and-harmonica tales of the woe-stricken.

Once again he’s riding through the heartland of America, but this time he can’t find the pulse.

Slated to record the follow-up to the double-album excess of 1980’s The River, Springsteen assembled his songs into 10 home-recorded demos.

The whole E Street Band was called in to record, but both Springsteen and his producers thought the rough, emotional first-takes got the point across best.

They were right.

You don’t need anything more than Springsteen’s tortured wail to make the plight of wronged prisoner “Johnny 99” rip you apart.

A fuller arrangement would cover up the guilt-ridden menace of “State Trooper”’s criminal narrative.

But there’s always the “What if?” And that’s why crafting your own version of these songs is irresistible. Can you do a better job of tempting your lady to go on a last-ditch trip to “Atlantic City”? Can you care for a brother more than Springsteen’s “Highway Patrolman” does?

Taking on these bare-bones tunes will give these local heroes the chance to tackle Springsteen’s epic persona head on.

Nobody can be Bruce Springsteen, but you can sure as hell turn the wondrous blueprints of the now-famous demos into something worth while.

Nebraska gives any brave artist the chance to create his or her own idea of what it is to be Bruce. And it’s going to be quite a thrill to see what kind of Bosses these local heroes turn out to be.

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The Daily Tar Heel for December 1, 2021

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