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Review: Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You

— by RON WILKINSON —

The Boss is back. Almost 60 years after heading up his high school band, the Castiles, on the Jersey Shore, what stands before you is a rock survivor. As the camera pokes its head into the recording studio to film Bruce and the E-Street Band recording their new album “Letter to You,” the artist waxes poetic about his music. To communicate is the thing, we are told. Although most of this communication seems to be one-way, from Bruce to everybody, we love him. Seventy one years old, thank you very much, and when he rocks, he rocks.

Potentially a thrilling inside look at the studio recording process, director Thom Zimny and writer Bruce himself, steer the screenplay away from the nuts and bolts. The Boss communicates with the players through a sort of shorthand, in the same way the players talk to each other. Their arrangements are made as we watch, with frantic note taking and inscrutable shorthand impossible for outsiders to understand, even if we were shown it.

In the midst of mostly serious concentration, plenty of screen time is left for Springsteen’s poetic take on life and music. Married almost thirty years and with three children he an anomaly in more ways than one. He has been making music with the E-Street Band for longer than that.

It is a nod to the power of his presence that he is able to make what is actually an MTV movie to publicize his latest album and make it look like an afternoon of drinks and riffs at home. If the affair comes off like a New Jersey Buena Vista Social Club that is nobody’s business but their own. Toasts are consumed to the two missing members of the group, saxophonist Clarence Clemons who died of a stroke in 2011 and keyboardist Danny Federici who died in 2008.

There is some “never seen before” archival footage, but not much. One imagines that whatever was recorded became so valuable that it was sold long ago. Also, Bruce and the band played for quite a while for almost nothing. It was a poverty stricken beginning filled with broken down cars, unknown future addresses and law enforcement near misses. Sad, but little time or energy to film when one is starving.

The 10 originals that are performed come across as near-perfect Boss, only without the production. They are, of course, without Federici’s glockenspiel and Clemon’s sax and there was no attempt to replace those sounds and no studio production. It sounds just as it appears. This is not going to rock the legions of fans who were hypnotized by “Born to Run.”

A beautiful movie made all the more real by the sincerity of the film maker and the star. Hugging and boozing aside, there is a lot to like here in the simplicity and honesty of the art. Not hard to believe for those who have seen the Boss, but monstrously out of date in a time where an artist’s web presence, photo shoots and costumery are the bulk of the package. This package is all music.

Rating: 7/10

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