Bruce Springsteen - Only The Strong Survive (2022)

It took me awhile to become a Bruce Springsteen fan. I liked his songs but not his singing. There was a time when his voice really grated on me, and it didn't help that WMMR - Philadelphia's alternative rock station of the early 70s - played his first two albums, Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ and The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle, incessantly.

Unfortunately, no matter how hard I tried I just couldn't get past Springsteen's vocals. Otherwise, his singer-songwriter folkiness mixed with generous doses of rock, R&B and jazz were a perfect fit for me.

Due to the hall-of-famer's exceptionally devoted fan base I learned about his legendary live shows, and on the evening of September, 18, 1984 I finally went to see him and his terrific E Street Band during their Born In The USA tour. It was at this last of his six consecutive shows at The Spectrum that I became a Boss believer.

That evening, the star and his band played for three and a half hours, and during the encore they showed their love of vintage soul with a lengthy Mitch Ryder medley along with covers of "Twist and Shout" and "Do You Love Me." Everything great anyone ever said about the rocker's marathon concerts was true and I began to look beyond his vocals.

Even today, there is nothing to suggest that New Jersey's favorite son is anything more than an average singer, but it no longer matters because on Only The Strong Survive - his new album of fifteen, classic R&B, cover songs - his voice is a perfect fit.

Surprisingly, many of the album's arrangements are faithful to the original hit records instead of the star putting his own spin on them - something you would always expect from Springsteen. But, he loves these songs in their original versions and is showing them the reverence he believes they deserve. Weather he's covering Motown (four songs), Jerry Butler, The Commodores, Frankie Valli, Dobie Gray, Tyrone Davis and others, he gets the job done.

Many vintage R&B songs use an abundance of background singers and string sections, and Springsteen and producer Ron Aniello - who plays most of the instruments on the record - aren't afraid to employ them here. The Boss duets with Sam Moore on two tracks and the brass is supplied by the E Street Horns. All of these things go a long way into making these oldies sound like the soul music many of us grew up with in the 60s, 70s and 80s, the decades they came from.

The album works well because Springsteen loves this stuff. He grew up on these earthy sounds and played a lot of them live with his first band, The Castilles. This music comes naturally to him and he doesn't need to put a lot of effort into making them his own. Only The Strong Survive has a lot of heart.