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Western Stars, the 19th studio album from the Boss, has been heralded as a dramatic and beguiling departure from his traditional sound: a lushly orchestrated set of throwback, country-tinged folk that, despite some resemblance to previous works like Nebraska and The Ghost of Tom Joad, sounds like little else in his catalog.

The punch of the E Street Band and the earthiness of Springsteen’s solo efforts are replaced by luscious orchestrations, heavy on the strings and French horn, cooing female backing vocals, guitars that shimmer and quiver with tremolo effects, mournful pedal steel. Springsteen drives proceedings with acoustic strumming, the rough tones of his voice rooting the symphonic gorgeousness in gritty reality. Lyrics offer character sketches, lives caught with a few deft lines and evocative melodies. This is an album that plays into the Western stereotypes of travelling to deserted plains via winding train journeys, then staying in sticky motels and frequenting the charming local spots. It adds up to an work that manages to be both unexpected and of a piece with its author’s back catalogue, easily standing in comparison with his very best solo albums.

Bruce Springsteen sounds positively invigorated on Western Stars. With a new sonic palette and renewed focus on the LP as a means of writing short stories, it’s easily his best album of new material since 2007’s Magic.