Western Stars review – Springsteen's nuggets of cowboy wisdom

In a barn with his wife, an orchestra and a new set of cowboy-inflected songs, the Boss reflects magnetically on past demons and meditates on age

Even hardened Bruce Springsteen agnostics were converted after watching last year’s Netflix documentary of his Springsteen on Broadway show – a straight-up account of an acoustic set of greatest hits. You really would have to be clinically soul-dead not to be blown away by the intensity of his performance and the monologues about his childhood and early career, scripted with the storytelling power of Raymond Carver stories.

Now comes a new documentary with more of the same – this time Springsteen performing in a barn on his ranch in New Jersey, playing his latest album Western Stars.

There are added bells and whistles here: Springsteen accompanied by an orchestra, backing singers and his wife, Patti Scialfa, on guitar and vocals. So a little of the intimacy is gone, and I have to admit to not being 100% sold on the cowboy-inflected songs, which feature quite a bit of dime-store sentimentality. But Springsteen is undoubtedly magnetic, his voice a honeyed growl.

Together these two films are a little like Johnny Cash’s American album series. They have that same sense of a great artist in meditative, autumnal mode, living with his demons. He’s older, wiser, more open to vulnerability. In the new film, Springsteen talks about letting go of the destructive parts of his nature: “They did not go easy into the night.”

He takes a co-directing credit here alongside Thom Zimny (who directed Springsteen on Broadway). A Q&A with both men, filmed at the London film festival, will be showing in cinemas as a bonus.

Watch a trailer for Western Stars


Cath Clarke

The GuardianTramp

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