Martyn Joseph releasing an entire album of Bruce Springsteen songs is a win, win, win! It is a win for Joseph... it is a win for the listener and... it is a win for Bruce Springsteen too! I know some friends who have asked why Martyn should be bothered releasing such a record? He is too good a writer himself to be wasting his time doing covers. However, Martyn Joseph has always been an artist of the cover version. That folk troubadour tradition that he inhabits has always been one that hands down the songs of others and the Welshman’s early covers of Billy Joel’s Piano Man and Don McLean’s Vincent led to his fans eagerly seeking his reinventions. Springsteen himself blazed the trail with his Seeger Sessions album. Martyn has been covering Springsteen for many years; One Step Up appeared on Under Lemonade Skies while Thunder Road and Ghost Of Tom Joad were part of his Run For Cover compilation of covers.
A friend had asked, when Springsteen was in Belfast in the summer, where they should start to connect with an artist that was too stadium rock for their taste. They should listen no further than here. He has given Bruce’s songs a real gravitas and depth sometimes lost in E Street rock congestion; The Rising and Badlands perfect examples! Other highlights for me are the perhaps less familiar known songs, Happy, Blood Brothers and The Promise, the latter being actually more satisfying to me than the original out take from Tracks. Springsteen might just find his way into the hearts of people like my friend through the service that Martyn Joseph does for him here.
Ultimately, the record really works for the listener. A massive Springsteen fan Joseph has not been precious with his heroes songs, reinventing them in his own style. Like the best covers, these reworkings bring out lines and nuances that I had missed even after years listening to the Springsteen versions. By the time you are through all seventeen you see why he empathises so much with Springsteen. The working man song Factory sits alongside Joseph’s songs about Welsh miners; The River even has a valley in the lyrics; the story songs like Cautious Man with God lingering on the edges; and the more up front spirituality of Land Of Hope and Dreams. Many of them, having been taken out of their E Street sound, take on new poignancy and a new gritty power in the less instead of more musical approach! The whole venture sits neatly alongside Martyn Joseph’s recent records, as if they are almost co-writes instead of covers.