Sony – 2005 – 50 minutes

Lately, Bruce Springsteen has been all about politics. After a lifetime as a passionate but non-partisan chronicler of life in America, he took a definite and vocal line in favour of Democratic candidate John Kerry in last year's US presidential election.

Before that, his last album 'The Rising' was an attempt at a serious dissection of the American soul in its post-11 September state.

While it nearly buckled under the weight of overproduction and perceptions of self-importance, 'The Rising' still stands out as a major label record that dared to question the culture of fear that pervades across the Atlantic.

Here, the Boss backs away from taking such a broad sweep, and instead offers a collection of songs telling disparate stories of the lives of ordinary people that portray love, sex, suffering, doubt, loss, belief and mourning.

Springsteen's vocals utter these tales of Americana in hushed, almost reverential tones. The effect is backed  up by simple musical arrangements largely of guitar and piano that give the songs a raw, pared down feel.

Much of the lyrical imagery is dominated by references that reveal Springsteen's heart is close to nature. The beautiful, poignant 'Silver Palamino' uses cowboy imagery in poetic lyrics that imagine the thoughts of two young boys whose mother has died.    

'Matamoros Banks' makes use of similar word pictures in evoking the unfortunately common experience of a man who drowns attempting to cross into the US in search of a better life.

'Long Time Comin'' and 'Leah' are both tales of love told in different ways. The former sees a man look back on his life and a yearning for love at last fulfilled, with nature again figuring in references to sleeping outdoors and gazing upon the stars. The latter is a tale of pure devotion and the simple wishes of the common man.

One oddly unfitting track on this earnest collection is a song about a man's encounter with a prostitute that must have led to the parental advisory sticker on the cover.

Springsteen offers by way of explanation on the excellent five-track live DVD that comes with 'Devils & Dust' that as a fledgling singer- songwriter he would insert quirky songs into his sets to keep the audience's attention and to get noticed.

In terms of Springsteen's sizeable canon recorded since those days, it's perhaps the title track that will be most remembered from this album.

'Devils & Dust', unlike the album it gives its name to, is political in focus, perceptively questioning the motivations of those who are prompted by fear to kill in order to survive, in an apparent reference to US soldiers in combat overseas. It seems this seasoned troubadour isn't ready to step away entirely from criticism of American foreign policy just yet.

Bill Lehane

Tracklisting: Devils & Dust - All the Way Home - Reno - Long Time Comin' - Black Cowboys - Maria's Bed - Silver Palomino - Jesus Was An Only Son - Leah - The Hitter - All I'm Thinkin' About - Matamoros Banks

DVD Tracklisting: Devils & Dust (live acoustic) - Long Time Comin' (live acoustic) - Reno (live acoustic) - All I'm Thinkin' About (live acoustic) - Matamoros Banks (live acoustic)