Much has been made of Bruce Springsteen's 1984 album "Born In The U.S.A.," from the false patriotism assumed about its title track to the cover photo that some believe depicts Springsteen pissing on the American flag. What's not debatable, however, is how it propelled the singer/songwriter from an arena rocker to stadium filler. Now with "Dead Man's Town," a group of Americana artists take a contemporary musical pass through these great songs.
Interestingly, one of the groups best known for creating hushed music (Low), rocks out a bit on "I'm On Fire," while a many times rocker (Nicole Adkins) slows the album's biggest dance song, "Dancing In The Dark," right down to a crawl. In fact, few of these arrangements sound like the originals. North Mississippi Allstar's version of "My Hometown" is quite similar to The Boss's initial take, but it's an exception. For instance, Holly Williams turns the positive action of "No Surrender" into a ghostly give-up. Williams sings it beautifully, but it basically saps the life out of one of Springsteen's better anthems. Ryan Culwell's gets the award for best Springsteen rasp due to his cover of "Bobby Jean." Lastly, had Springsteen recorded the title track the way Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires do it here, it might never have been so misunderstood. With Shires' mournful fiddle, it's best described as funereal.
These new versions of older Springsteen songs remind us of just how strong "Born In The U.S.A." is, from beginning to end. Springsteen may have been embraced first by the album oriented rock crowd, but these recordings prove without question that he was Americana/alt.-country cool before that stylistic branch even came into vogue.