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Bruce Springsteen – Odds & Sods (Crystal Cat Records CC 1079)

Odds & Sods (Crystal Cat Records CC 1079)

Various locations – 1972-2017

Tunnel Of Love. Coming Home, Cadillac Ranch, Intro, Prove It All Night, State Trooper, Kitty’s Back, The Patriot Game, Devils & Dust, Backstreets, Intro, Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?, Gulf Coast Highway, I’ll Stand By You Always, Blood Brothers, I’m Going Back, Intro, Blood Brothers, Don’t Hang Up

Crystal Cat’s latest Springsteen offering is a silver disc version of a collection of assorted songs upped to Jungleland by “TimeIsRight” in February 2017 and described as, “13 recordings you have (probably) never heard, number 12 will delight you!  A collection of rare and unreleased recordings from 1972-2005.”  There are, in fact, fourteen songs due to the inclusion of a hidden track and a couple of extra songs from 2017 added by Crystal Cat.  TimeIsRight explains the origins of this collection as follows:

Just to be clear, I’m not your average Bruce collector.  Over the decades, I befriend [sic] people near the band, close to the label and yes other collectors, too, all over the world.  When those sources come to visit my country, I ask them to bring some rare tapes and I gave them something special in return, not always music!”

The disc commences with Tunnel of Love, which opened the show at the Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, MI on 3 August 2005 during the solo acoustic Devils & Dust Tour.  It was the song’s only appearance on the tour.  TimeIsRight calls it a, “stunning electric-piano arrangement…the only time Springsteen played it like this,” and contends that it was, “perhaps the most moving performance on the entire 2005 tour.”  Greasy Lake poster jukebox calls it “Utterly Brilliant.”  The song is played at a slow tempo and the performance is most atmospheric.  It is a definite highlight of this release and a splendid way to start the disc.

The next song, the eight-and-a half-minute, guitar-driven Coming Home, takes us way back to 1972.  It is one of eight songs taken from what Brucebase calls “a high-quality soundboard recording” of a rehearsal by the Bruce Springsteen Band held at manager Tinker West’s Challenger Eastern Surfboards Factory, Highlands, NJ on 14 March.  The line-up was Springsteen, Steve Van Zandt, David Sancious, Garry Tallent and Vini Lopez.  Six songs from this session (The Ballad Of Jesse James, It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue, When You Dance, Look Towards The Land, I’ve Got To Have You Baby and Funk Song) have previously circulated as part of the Uber series, making this, as TimeIs Right point out, one of the two “lost” songs (the other being Do It With A Feeling).  The six Uber songs were also released CD-R as Challenger Surfboard Factory Sessions (Hot Stuff) and both give the title of The Ballad Of Jesse James (which has recently appeared in an edited version on Chapter And Verse) as Don’t You Want To Be An Outlaw.  The absence of the other two songs is explained by springsteenlyrics.com as follows:

“The recording is on three reel-to-reel tapes. The first two, which contains the first six songs listed above, is in circulation among collectors.  The third reel, which contains the last two songs… is no [sic] in circulation and remains in the hands of a private collector.” 

Coming Home is also known from three live performances.  One, from the University Of Richmond in Virginia on 23 October 1971, was previously thought to be from 17 March 1972 at the Richmond Arena and before that attributed to a Steel Mill concert in November 1970.  Brucebase notes that the correct date derives from the discovery of two “reels [of tape] originally belonging to Mike Appel…marked with this date and location.”  The show was released on the CD-R Fantastic Virginia (Vintage Masters) and a torrented version has also appeared with superior stereo sound as Volume One of the “Non Uber Project.”  The second known performance, which is unrecorded, has been tentatively  attributed by Brucebase to the show at the Student Prince in Asbury Park 0n 11 December 1971; the third, from the Back Door, also in Richmond, on 25 February 1972, exists in an uncirculated audience recording. 

The song is another of my favourites from this compilation and northernlights, posting on Backstreets’ BTX forum, agrees on the quality of the first two songs, despite being less impressed with the others: “Happy to have but only 2 tracks stood out for me; Coming Home and Tunnel Of Love.  I loved the D&D tour and that version of TOL is amazing.  I’m also a fan of the early years especially Steel Mill and this Bruce Springsteen Band track sounds very much like it could have been Steel Mill.”

The third song is Cadillac Ranch from the sessions at the Power Station in New York in 1980 for The River.  Recorded during February-April 1980, the six versions of the song are described by Brucebase as, “all mix permutations of the same basic recording.”  The version heard here, V1e, includes sound effects (a siren and screeching car tyres) during the intro and a different lead guitar.  TimeIsRight calls this version, “a novelty to be sure, but still fun to hear.”  Bearing in mind that, despite its musically upbeat qualities, the song ha s clear overtones of mortality, perhaps “novelty” and “fun” are not the right words to use here.  As Greasy Lake poster Early North Jersey writes: “Considering what I  have always interpreted Cadillac Ranch to be about…The Ambulance at the beginning hit me hard.”

Next up is a live recording of Prove It All Night from The Forum, Inglewood, CA on 5 July 1978.  Unsurprisingly, it includes the piano and guitar introduction associated with performances from the Darkness On The Edge Of Town Tour, though the guitar part is relatively short and rather more restrained than on more familiar performances, though nonetheless effective.  The sound of the guitar is also different from that heard on the more well-known versions.  This would seem to be due to the fact that Springsteen played a Fender Stratocaster, rather than the usual Telecaster, at this concert.  There is film footage which shoes this and Brucebase also displays two shots of Springsteen playing the Stratocaster, one of which claims to show him during the performance of Prove It All Night.  We also hear Springsteen’s spoken introduction relating how he defaced a billboard advertising the tour on Sunset Strip with spray paint.

State Trooper is from the soundcheck at Gund Arena, Cleveland, OH on 15 November 1999.  This version, described by Brucebase as “a slide-guitar-led full band arrangement,” was not performed during the show.  This arrangement works extremely well, and begins with a particularly atmospheric quiet section, though it is marred by a rather sudden ending.

Kitty’s Back is the earliest known live version, which TimeIsRight tentatively dates to July 1973 at an unknown venue.  Brucebase  argues that the recording is likely to come from one of several performances at Max’s Kansas City during the latter part of the month, stating:

“A good quality soundboard recording of ‘Kitty’s Back’ from around this date is in circulation.  Slight variations in the lyrics compared to later performances suggest it is an early recording, and a reference to Basin Street (instead of Bleecker Street) in the second verse indicates it may be from Max’s Kansas City.  Basin Street East was a famous nightclub in New York City, located just a few blocks from Max’s.”

As one would expect from an early rendition, this hugely enjoyable and vibrant rendition of the song becomes a long, loose jam with extensive soloing, clocking in at almost eleven minutes.

The Patriot Game, played in a pump organ arrangement, is taken from the soundcheck that preceded the concert at the Tower Theater, Upper Darby, PA on 17 May 2005.  Like State Trooper, it was not played during the show.  The song, which was written by songwriter, singer, short story writer, novelist and playwright Dominic Behan (younger brother of Brendan Behan) using the tune of the folksong The Merry Month of May, has been recorded by numerous artists, including the Kingston Trio, The Bluebells, The Dubliners, The Wolfe Tones, Schooner Fare, The Clancy Brothers and Judy Collins.  Behan was a committed Irish Republican and his lyrics tell the story of Fergal O’Hanlon, an IRA Volunteer who was killed, along with Seán South, in an attack on Brookeborough Royal Ulster Constabulary  barracks in County Fermanagh on 1 January 1957.  The operation was devised and led by Sean Garland, who later became a close friend of Behan’s. Greasy Lake poster risingaurora notes that: “Perhaps deliberately Bruce changes some words and mumbles over others. Kind of makes it a universal song rather than an explicitly Irish one.  A wise move.”  That is perhaps not entirely accurate, as Springsteen does refer to  the IRA, though he omits the song’s two most controversial verses, one of which criticizes Irish revolutionary and statesman Éamon de Valera and the other of which begins: “I don’t mind a bit if I shoot down police/They are lackeys for war never guardians of peace.”  This is the least musically interesting number on the disc, which, frankly, I found rather dull and, like State Trooper, it comes to a sudden end.

Devils & Dust (another soundcheck song not played during the actual show) comes from the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver on 11 April 2003, a couple of years before the release of the album of the same name.  It is heard here in a country-style full band arrangement, featuring a different second verse and other lyrical variations.  It is a very effective arrangement and it is another of my favourite songs from this release.

This collection’s third performance from the Devils & Dust Tour is a solo piano arrangement of Backstreets from the Fox Theater, St. Louis, MO on 6 August 2005.  This was the first time the song had been played in this guise and there were only two further performances on the tour.  The song also had the distinction of being the first number from Born To Run played on the tour. Brucebase calls the performance “stunning” and TimeIsRight considers it “an absolutely sublime performance.”  Greasy Lake posters are also impressed with misty rain writing that,  “that version of Backstreets is gorgeous!” gaityr caling it “sublime”and JackUK contending that it is, “one of the best Backstreets I have ever heard.” Attendee Roulette99, posting BTX forum, remembers that, “it was indeed incredible.”  I consider this to be another major highlight of the disc, although I do feel that the short harmonica part adds little, if anything, to the performance.

Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street? was recorded before the last of three shows at Joe’s Place, Cambridge, MA on 4, 5 and 6 January 1974.  I reviewed Godfather’s release of the soundboard recording of the show’s second set, Live At Joe’s Place, in October 2011.  There has been speculation that at least one and possibly all three of the shows were filmed, although this appears not to be the case, as Brucebase points out:

“Evidence has now emerged (printed in The Real Paper on January 16, 1974) that only one song was recorded on the afternoon of Sunday, January 6, for the benefit of Muscular Dystrophy.  This was likely a local fund-raiser, rather than a national telethon. Two takes of “Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?’ were recorded, without an audience. This was filmed with the intention of showing it on local TV in March, perhaps on a benefit show, but it is unclear whether this ever happened.”

The film footage, if it still exists, has not emerged, though we hear the audio of the sprightly and enjoyable performance here.  There is no intro as such – the band start the song, stop and begin again, so that the track labelled “Intro” is the false start.

Springsteen’s take on Nanci Griffith’s Gulf Coast Highway (from her 1997 album Blue Roses From The Moons) is another soundcheck number and it was recorded, according to TimeIsRight, at Madison Square Garden in May 1988.  Springsteen played a stand of five shows at the venue between 16 and 23 May, which concluded the American leg of the Tunnel Of Love Express Tour.  TimeIsRight does not give a specific date and Brucebase makes no mention of the song being played at any of the shows.  Instead, Brucebase states that it was from Wembley Stadium on 25 June 1988, noting that, “a line recording of ‘Gulf Coast Highway’ from around this time has been circulating for several years. It was soundchecked at this concert so the recording may well be from this date.”  Jungleland poster scialfa also notes that the song “was recorded in London.”   However. fellow poster sawexler responds with the contention that, “it’s not the same soundcheck, as the London one.  This one has the band.  London is just Bruce and Patty [sic].”  TimeIsRight calls the song “beautiful” stating that while Springsteen and the E Street Band, “never completed the arrangement or performed it in concert, this brief glimpse is lovely in its own right.”  Greasy Lake  posters are impressed with stillilllife rightly contending that, “Gulf coast highway is just beautiful,” and Bluebonnets arguing that, “I’d so love to hear Bruce & Patti sing Gulf Coast Highway properly together.  Her voice would be so pretty for that song.”  Another poster, the calvary, reckons that, “Backstreets, Bus Stop and Gulf Coast are a really nice run of songs.  No idea why they work so well together for me, but they do.”

I’ll Stand By You Always is undoubtedly the most highly anticipated song included on Odds & Sods, Greasy Lake poster CrushOnOutlaw, for example, writing, “my God. The ‘Harry Potter song’ is actually available, that’s…surreal.  I never expected to hear it.”  Brucebase writes in of the “mysterious history” of the song:

“A ballad written by Springsteen sometime between 1998 and 2000 and inspired by reading the Harry Potter books to his youngest son Sam.  This is not a children’s song, however.  Sometime in early 2001, Bruce made the song available to director Chris Columbus, who at the time was shooting the first of the Potter movies.  A Springsteen recording of the song was filed with the US Copyright Office on June 13, 2001.  However the Springsteen song was ultimately rejected due to Harry Potter novelist/creator JK Rowling’s contractual stipulation that no commercial songs of any type be used in the Potter film series.”

Springsteen donated the song to fellow Sony artist Marc Anthony (in September or October 2001, according to Brucebase) and both Sony and Anthony issued press releases stating that the song would appear on his album Mended.  However, when the album was released in April 2002 the song was conspicuous by its absence and it also failed to appear on a later special edition with bonus material. 

TimeIsRight gives the recording location asThrill Hill East, Rumson, NJ.”  However, Brucebase contends out that the song was recorded a during the sessions for The Rising at Southern Tracks Studio in Atlanta in early 2002 and explicitly lists this version as the one on Odds & Sods.  Brucebase does state that, “Springsteen did, in fact, conduct scattered solo sessions at his Thrill Hill East home studio during the September 2000 – January 2001 period. Numerous songs were recorded – but details remain very sketchy,” which does not rule out an earlier, albeit solo, recording from Thrill Hill East.  Brucebase also refers to, “Springsteen’s numerous studio sessions from 1996-2001…(at Thrill Hill East, Thrill Hill West and The Hit Factory) [which] were produced either by Springsteen (alone) or co-produced by Springsteen and Chuck Plotkin.  Recording engineer was Toby Scott.”  SpringsteenLyrics.com clearly locates the recording of the song at The Hit Factory in early 2001, stating that:

 “I’LL STAND BY YOU ALWAYS must have been recorded in early 2001 at the Hit Factory in New York City, NY. There were minor media reports/sightings at the time (late-February to late-March 2001) of Springsteen and various members of the E Street Band coming in and out of the Hit Factory. It was the “Chuck Plotkin/Toby Scott” studio team behind the dials for these Hit Factory sessions.”

This earlier provenance would seem to be confirmed both by the copyright entry from June 2001, which states, “Description: Sound cassette + lyrics sheet,” thereby clearly indicaing the existence of a recording, and by the production of a disc referred to by SpringsteenLyrics.com:

“I’LL STAND BY YOU ALWAYS was exclusively given out on an in-house promo CD-R to some very few top executives at Columbia Records.  The CD-R was burned on 31 Oct 2001 [the site shows a picture of the CD-R, which bears this date], right around the time when the track was being offered up to the Harry Potter producers, and about a week before the Live In New York City DVD was released.  The CD-R contains three tracks: ‘Song For Harry Potter,’ ‘My Hometown (Live),’ and ‘This Hard Land (Live).’

‘Song For Harry Potter,’ which clocks at 5:32, is I’LL STAND BY YOU ALWAYS.”

The two live tracks on the disc, which is titled Bonus Tracks, are from the show at Madison Square Garden on 29 June 2000.  They also appeared on the limited edition two-track CD which accompanied the Live In New York City DVD.

In an interview on the BBC Radio 2 programme Drivetime in October 2016 (which can still be heard on the BBC’s website), presenter Simon Mayo read out a question from a listener named Steve asking, “apparently, you once wrote a song for a Harry Potter film called I’ll Stand By You Always.  Is that true?”  Springsteen confirmed that that he had, also stating that the song had not been used.  In response to Mayo’s question, “how can they not use it?” Springsteen replied, “you’ll have to ask them.”  He went on to say that, “it was pretty good, it was a song I wrote for my eldest son.  It was a big ballad that was very uncharacteristic of something I’d sing myself.  But…it was something that I thought would have fit [sic] lovely.  At some point I’d like to get it into a children’s movie of some sort because it was, it was a pretty lovely song.”

Greasy Lake posters are divided, with riverdude2 enthusing, “wow, I’ll Stand By You Always is just brilliant.  How did this one not get chosen for the movie?”  and enn writing that, “Ive [sic] waited years to hear this song. It [sic] such a beautiful song, amazing its [sic] never been released ”  However, others disagree, contending that the song is not terribly distinctive, decidedly average or simply not very good.  Tom-Joad, for example, writes, “can’t say I like ‘I’ll stand by you always’ very much…Sounds too generic.”  -Sussudio- notes that, “I understand what those who say this song sounds generic mean, it is Springsteen-balled-by-numbers in fairness,” Captain Chaos argues that, “I think it’s ok.  Nice enough but nothing amazing,”  and Growin’ Up argues that, “It’s a bit ‘meh’ isn’t it?  Like an outtake from Working on a dream [sic].  No wonder the producers of HP rejected it.”  Others simply feel that the song was not compatible with the film, more that one poster noting that it the use of an American song by a quintessentially American artist in a “primarily British film” would have been “jarring.”  My own opinion is that the song, while not particularly distinctive and certainly no masterpiece, is, in its own modest way (to use Springsteen’s own word), “lovely” – as -Sussudio- concludes, even “Springsteen-by-numbers is usually pretty damn good anyway.”

The studio version of Blood Brothers included here was recorded at The Hit Factory in New York on 9 January 1995.  TimeIsRight notes that, “Bruce played ‘Blood Brothers’ solo acoustic for the first time on opening night of the 2017 tour in Australia.  During the 1995 Greatest Hits sessions, he tried it that way as well to stunning effect.”

The hidden track after Blood Brothers is, as rendered by Crystal Cat, is “I’m Going Back.Jaming [sic],” recorded during the same session.  Despite being a basic workout of an undeveloped idea, the song is nicely melodic and it is entirely unrelated to the frenzied rocker entitled I’m Goin’ Back which was recorded during the sessions for Darkness On The Edge Of Town Brucebase gives the following details:

“Recorded in January 1995 at The Hit Factory, New York City with The E Street Band. This appears to be a work-in-progress, with Bruce singing falsetto over a backing of guitar, bass, and drums.  The vast majority of the lyrics are bluffed. The song was not worked to any conclusion during the sessions, and no official title is known. We’ve used the title ‘I’m Going Back’ on the basis that it is the only lyric that can be heard.”

The first of Crystal Cat’s bonus tracks is the Australian performance of Blood Brothers referred to by TimeIsRight above from the Perth Arena on 22 January 2017.  Brucebase notes that the song, “makes its first ever appearance outside the U.S. in a solo acoustic arrangement with the original lyrics.”  Joe Wall, writing on Backstreets, points out that the song was played by sign request in memory of a recently deceased fan named Matty , to whom we hear Springsteen refer, and he takes some time to remember how the song goes before he begins.

The “Intro” which precedes the song is, in fact, a political speech given by Springsteen after the show’s opening number New York City Serenade, whereas Blood Brothers opened the encore.  Springsteen’s spoke as follows:

“The E Street Band is glad to be here in Western Australia. Yes, yes.  We’re a long way from home, and our hearts and spirits are with the hundreds of thousands of women and men that marched yesterday in every city in America – and in Melbourne! – who rallied against hate and division and in support of tolerance, inclusion, reproductive rights, civil rights, racial justice, LGBTQ rights, the environment, wage equality, gender equality, healthcare and immigrant rights.  We stand with you.  We are the new American resistance.”

Continuing the political theme, the disc ends with a solo acoustic version of The Orlons’ 1962 hit Don’t Hang Up which opened the concert at AAMI Park in Melbourne on 2 February 2017,  Springsteen’s only performance of the song.  Brucebase notes that, “he dedicates the song to Malcolm Turnbull, the Australian Prime Minister who had an abrupt end to his phone call with President Trump” the previous day and Wall calls it, “a zippy little poke back at an administration seemingly hellbent on destroying American goodwill around the world.”  Pro-shot footage of the song can be viewed on Springsteen’s official website and on YouTube.  “We stand before you embarrassed Americans tonight,” says Springsteen, introducing the song, “we’re gonna use this to send a letter back home.”

TimeIsRight sums up the rationale for this collection as: 

“My thoughts were just random songs, tracks that stand alone, but don’t exactly go together other than they are interesting.  A live track.  Outtake.  Soundcheck.  Alternate take.

Springsteen is my favorite artist of all time, but second is The Who.  And one of my favorite Who albums of all time is Odds & Sods, a collection of random tracks.  And I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to make a Bruce Springsteen Odds & Sods, just some rare songs from over the years that don’t belong together but they do?

This is Bruce Springsteen Odds & Sods.  Why is this song on there? That song on there, but not that other song?  I don’t know.  I don’t care.  Some of these felt like they should come out.  Others are my favorites, maybe not yours.  They have almost nothing in common other than you probably haven’t heard any of them before.  And if you have, sorry!  Neil Young had his own Odds & Sods album called Lucky Thirteen.  This is my Lucky 13 songs for you.”

Obviously, the sound sources are almost as varied as the songs.  Coming home, for example, is from a rehearsal recorded by Springsteen’s manager, whereas Cadillac Ranch derives from a recording session for an album held in a professional studio.  Pete, on BTX, informs us that Tunnel Of Love and Backstreets derive from “previously circulated IEMs” and fellow poster Catlong_sighs, contends that Prove It All Night (which TimeIsRight calls a “soundboard”), “sounds like a mono recording from a video, likely the one made by KABC TV.”  Other numbers derive from recorded soundchecks and there are also Crystal Cat’s bonus tracks which I assume derive from the recordings available from Springsteen’s official website.  Although, due to the great variation in the origin of the material, the sound  is not uniform, the quality is, overall, extremely impressive.  Paolo’s Circus Story states that, “I’m amazed at the audio quality of these songs,” and on BTX geoffs writes that, “the quality is perfect.”  There is, however, a momentary glitch during Cadillac Ranch, where there is a second or two of extraneous noise, and some audible hiss at the start of Devils & Dust.

This is the first Crystal Cat release to come my way in a card sleeve.  The discs and booklet are housed in a glossy gatefold sleeve and the sleeve and the eight-page booklet bear numerous photographs, onstage and off, from various eras in Springsteen’s career.  Opening up the sleeve, one finds that the inner panels reproduce TimeIsRight’s notes on each song, with the notes on I’m Going Back lifted from Brucebase and on the two additional tracks from Wall’s accounts on Backstreets.  A little silver star is affixed to the bottom right-hand corner of the right inner panel.

Stuart, announcing this release on CMR in March, concludes that this release constitutes, “a brilliant way of getting this superb comp on silver-disk with the added bonus of a couple of exclusive tracks too!”  Jungleland posters are also impressed, with comments such as: “All this incredible, rare stuff.” (brucefan1); “Feels like a follow up to Deep Down In The Vaults.” (buckshot) and “fantastic collection of songs” (eagozzz).  On Greasy Lake JackUK adds: “What a great compilation of rare and unreleased recordings,” and OATS, on the Stone Pony London message board, calls it, “a must for every collector.”  Not everyone is so impressed.  On BTX, SpasticReelinPerfection, who makes reference to speculation that this compilation was sanctioned by Springsteen, writes: “Meh.  There are a few cool tracks, but if I was Bruce and going to put something out, I would have made it a lot better than this.” Captain Gas responds with: “Yep, it’s nice to hear once or twice, but meh sums it up quite well.”  With regard to the “official bootleg” rumours, hobbes4444 notes that Springsteen is, “not going to release IEM tracks, partially finished sound check rehearsals, mono live tracks, etc.”

To conclude, I would contend that this a disc which belongs in every serious Springsteen collection.  While you will not discover any lost masterpieces, you will hear Springsteen songs which you have not heard before, together with some rare cover versions and some old favourites in very different arrangements.  Somehow, all these varying styles of performance from different periods in Springsteen’s long career add up to a coherent and satisfying whole – as Time Is Right says, these are songs, “that don’t belong together but they do.”  Since acquiring this gem of a release I have been listening to it frequently and enjoying it immensely – I am sure you will too.

 

If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)

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