As well as being the first time since Born in the U.S.A. that Springsteen and the E Street Band recorded live in the studio; Letter To You is “the only album where it’s the entire band playing at one time with all the vocals and everything completely live.”
Whilst this, Bruce’s 20th LP was “cut” in four days; Letter To You has a lot of depth referring events that happened to Springsteen from when he was just fourteen years old up until the present day.
With Bruce now being 71, Letter To You goes back a long way, paying homage to his first band, Castiles, where he learned his craft and connected with local audiences. Castiles gave Springsteen the idea of what the E Street Band could be — the world’s biggest bar band. Whether or not this LP will win over The Boss’ core fan base; one has to admire Bruce’s adroitness in writing 12 songs covering 57 years of life experience in just ten days. Furthermore, this style of writing allowed Bruce to retrace his early career efforts with the glockenspiel, lyrical piano intros and swelling organ chords arrangements. Taking a mostly autobiographical approach on Letter To You has allowed Bruce to separate his politics and activism.
Opening with “One Minute You’re Here”, the listener receives an acoustic sanguine reception that will remind one of Dylan’s “Girl From The North Country”. One feels that Bruce has spiritually and lyrically gone back to basics as he sings “Red river running along the edge of town on the muddy banks…” From the next track onwards, Letter To You is up-tempo, powerful, and ethereal. With swelling powerful rock songs amidst a cocktail of bold organ chords, saxophones, harmonica with raw drums and vibrant acoustic and electric guitars.
The diversity of the lyrics covers a broad spectrum of different subjects and experiences. “Last Man Standing” is dedicated to George Theiss who invited Bruce to play in his first band Castiles and not long ago lost his battle to lung cancer. The power of Bruce and George’s relationship is beautifully described with the following: “Looking back on past. Faded pictures in an old scrapbook. Faded pictures that somebody took. When you were hard and young and proud back against the wall running raw and loud.” “Last Man Standing” undoubtedly builds upon Springsteen’s 1980 offering of The River where Springsteen mentions Theiss’ marriage to wife Diana at age 20.
Religion is a crucial element across songs including “The Power of Prayer” paying homage to Ben E. King’s voice and “If I Was the Priest” where he references Jesus, Mary and Mass. Furthermore, Bruce’s religious references are not confined to Catholicism; on “Rainmaker” Springsteen talks about raising a hand to “Yahweh”: the Hebrew name of God used in the Old Testament.
One would assume that lyrics such as “Your old Fender Twin from Johnny’s Music downtown, I shoulder your Les Paul and finger the fretboard” would feature on the song “House Of A Thousand Guitars”, they don’t; instead, they feature on “Ghosts” which sustains interest and that Bruce can still surprise an audience twenty albums in. Most poignant is his humbleness and connection for fruitful farmland across “Rainmaker” with “Parched crops dying ‘neath a dead sun” and “He comes crawlin’ ‘cross the dry fields like a dark shroud” on “If I were the Priest”.
Whilst some E Street Band members are no longer with us including saxophonist Clarence Clemons; his legacy lives on with his nephew Jake Clemons who filled his place making his uncle and the rest of the
E Street Band proud with gorgeous and infectious offerings on songs such as “Last Man Standing”. Death is a reoccurring theme for Bruce. He is the last remaining member of Castiles and except for George Theiss; all of the other Castiles band members died young.
Whilst much of Letter To You focuses on sadness, trials and the brutality that life can inflict on people who don’t deserve such suffering. The inspiration given to Bruce to write this LP in a way he had not visited in years stemmed from one act of kindness when one night after Bruce had performed in his Springsteen on Broadway show, a fan gave Bruce a “comfortable”, well-suited guitar to keep.