You may be wondering — and rightfully so — what the hell's up with Bruce (err, sorry... Broooooooosssssss) lately? He's detoured off E Street and opted for some dusty old folk songs most of us had to learn back in grade school. "Old Dan Tucker"? "When The Saints Go Marching In"? "Erie Canal"? C'mon, you're saying. When manager and mentor Jon Landau first laid eyes on the young Springsteen, he said he'd seen the future of rock 'n' roll, not the future of Ms. McMurphy's music class.
Still, the Boss deserves a break. He's got a new double disc and DVD, Live in Dublin, in stores now that makes him sound like El Jefe again. Patti "Mrs. Springsteen" Scialfa is here and part of the 17-piece Sessions Band that backed him up on last year's Seeger Sessions, the album that ignited his old-timey obsession. Watching the musicians go through their paces on the DVD is like witnessing a traveling musical revue that combines vintage tunes, contemporary savvy and impressive virtuosity.
Where Springsteen's earlier folkish forays — the barebones Nebraska and more recent Devils & Dust — confirmed his Everyman stance, this set delves into actual traditions via well-worn standards and some rugged Irish ballads. Mining the same Anglo vein as the Pogues and the Waterboys, the band affirms Bruce's ability to expand his musical palette with results that are nothing less than spectacular. Springsteen's gruff vocals are as riveting as ever, but here he shares the spotlight with an arsenal of fiddles, whistles, banjos, brass and backing vocalists. He's not exactly the wild man usually found at the helm of the E Street Band, but he still has the ability to rally the masses. Indeed, the Dublin audience roars its approval at the up-tempo tunes and regularly sings along, even after the performers' last notes have faded. The set's awe factor is heightened by radically reworked versions of Springsteen standards "Blinded By The Light," "Growin' Up," and "Atlantic City," each transformed as rowdy, revved up hoedowns. Nevertheless, it's the moving cover of "We Shall Overcome" and his own "If I Should Fall Behind" that prove passion is common ground from Asbury Park to Ireland.