Alpha rocker Bruce pays tribute to his soul roots . . .

The long and (mostly) proud tradition of covers album comes full circle for 73-year-old Bruce Springsteen on this blood-pumping set of 15 r`n'b and soul covers. You can picture him with his first band The Castiles blasting out some of these numbers in sixties Freehold in New Jersey.

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This is very much his variation on the Great American Songbook that has served the likes of Dylan and Rod Stewart so well in recent years and Bruce steps up to pay his blues with grand affection and joy on a love letter to his black music influences.

After all, doesn’t Bruce have a song called Cover Me?

It’s his 21st album and his second covers collection, following We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions in 2006. Surrounded by a crack band featuring a particularly superb drummer, the E Street Band’s horn section and with guest vocals by Sam Moore of the immortal soul duo Sam and Dave, these songs cook and simmer under Bruce’s loving care.

Bruce looking spruce

As a curtain raiser, Only the Strong Survive - a song originally recorded by the great Jerry Butler, who was the original lead singer of The impressions, and written by hit making duo Gamble and Huff - remakes eternal rocker Bruce as a soul shouter and throughout this set, he sounds most at home on the upbeat tracks.

Hey, Western Union Man - another Gerry Butler and Gamble and Huff joint - fizzes with energy and great backing singing, while Any Other Way, originally recorded by American soul singer William Bell, reaches take-off with organ trills, a swooping horn section and a great piledriving middle eight. I Forgot to Be Your Lover featuring Sam Moore is the best thing here and features Bruce’s best vocal performance in years.

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It ain’t all good. On Soul Days, a lovely midtempo number in Dobie Gray’s hands, Bruce comes on all guns blazing like the worst excesses of the E Street Band when they’re in full chug and the less said about his casual butchering of Nightshift by The Commodores the better.

He strays into bad karaoke on a needless take on The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore and brave is the man who tackles What Becomes of the Brokenhearted, a song that will forever be owned by the late Jimmy Ruffin.

However, this is a superbly recorded and heartfelt tribute that charts the genesis of Bruce and if you’re inspired to seek out the originals, his job is very much done. But, oh my! that cover of Nightshift . . .

Alan Corr @CorrAlan2