Tires Rushing by in the Rain, Martyn Joseph. Is there anyone better than Joseph to deliver acoustic takes on Springsteen's catalogue?

Label: Pipe Records
Time: 17 Tracks / 62 minutes

If Bruce Springsteen had grown up in Cardiff, rather than New Jersey, his songs may well have sounded like Joseph's. Both identify with the working man in songs about finding hope, despite living in a place that offers too little work and few prospects; both display a hunger for justice and both try to make sense of life from a spiritual viewpoint.

Joseph has long included Springsteen's work in his albums and performances, so this acoustic compilation makes absolute sense. More importantly, it works.

No one is expecting these versions to always beat The Boss's, but they often work as a very strong complement. Where the content of the more driven songs can sometimes get lost in the euphoria of a band performance, Joseph's raw, stripped back renditions expose the heart of the lyrics and bring out the emotions differently.

Absolute classics like "The Ghost of Tom Joad" have been well-covered in various genres (for example, by Solas, as reviewed on this site), but certainly succeed as brilliant material for Joseph's emotive delivery.

Some songs will work better for those who have lived with Springsteen over decades and intuitively get the songs as part of his journey. At first hearing, some tracks can sound as though they have a shallow focus. Three songs in a row that mention 'promise' can seem like Springsteen has too few ideas. However, those who know that "The Promise" is a remorseful follow-up to "Thunder Road" will pay more attention to why Joseph places "Blood Brothers" in between. Its road themes and disillusioned words make it an ideal bridge:

"Now the hardness of this world slowly grinds your dreams away,
Makin' a fool's joke out of the promises we make
And what once seemed black and white turns to so many shades of gray.
We lose ourselves in work to do and bills to pay
And it's a ride, ride, ride, and there ain't much cover
With no one runnin' by your side, my blood brother."

Then, as if to reinforce the point, he ends the collection on ukulele, playing "No Surrender," with its lines, "We swore blood brothers against the wind... we made a promise we swore we'd always remember."

Maybe he has been friendly with Show of Hands' Steve Knightley for too long, but Joseph tends to write downers more easily than upbeat songs. Here, songs like "Land of Hope and Dreams" help redress the balance.

These acoustic versions don't always work: "Badlands" and "The Rising," are enjoyable in their own right, but most will be comparing them with the original band versions, against which they sound a little thin. But that's the beauty of a good covers album: it re-interprets the core song, rather than replacing it or being a pointless copy.

Joseph plays the tracks rough and demo-like, letting the writing show through without any buffing. He sounds very comfortable in these songs, which exude a natural kinship with each other, and feel more cohesive as a collection than, say, his own Songs for the Coming Home.

Music critic and Springsteen biographer Dave Marsh has written in the liner notes, "Forty years into Springsteen's career, no other artist I can think of has tried any such thing, even though Bruce has for many of those years ranked as one of the finest songwriters rock ever produced."

Joseph has not just tackled the project, but made it a selection of songs that inspire him. It may be Springsteen's songs, but it's a Martyn Joseph album.

Derek Walker

{module Possibly Related Articles - Also search our Legacy Site}