I’m all about appreciating the past. Let’s applaud nostalgia! Revisit the glory days, but do it yourself—don’t send your protégé niece or nephew to pay tribute at your adored baseball diamond of yesteryear just so you can nervously shift in your rocking chair as they sloppily recount their experience, wearing the red clay you once found so familiar now so foreign smudged on their knees.
That’s unfortunately how Dead Man’s Town: A Tribute To Born In The USA goes about relishing Bruce Springsteen’s impossibly perfect Born In The USA on its 30th anniversary. An entire coven of Boss worshippers rallied to cover the album from start to finish. An ambitious goal, sure, but a bit of a yawn considering most of the bands employed make no efforts to cloak their blue collar core. They sound too much along the campfire-and-malt-liquor rock rolodex Springsteen nailed to breathe new life into the tracks. And they’re not the man himself, so a lot of the album comes off as watered down and uncomfortably reminiscent of the original works.
Ryan Culwell’s “Bobby Jean” and Trampled By Turtles’ “I’m Going Down” never quite lift off the Tarmac. Quaker City Nighthawks mimic the original instrumentation on “Darlington County” impressively, but when the vocals kick in, tears well—and likely not the kind they intended.
There are definitely some exceptions to the collection’s overall murky dishwater feel. Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires kick off the compilation cleanly with the title track, employing such haunting string arrangements the cobwebs sprout without warning.
Nicole Atkins does with “Dancing In The Dark” what the comp probably set out to do as a whole—revamp classics in a new, interesting way without perverting them out of recognition. The original take proudly displayed Springsteen’s wild Tuesday night party jubilee: high-kicks, sax and all. She did something a little different. Atkins’ version seeps remarkably sexy all stripped down and quiet, flecked with spacey synths. Her vocals keep a sluggish cadence, taking time to saturate the listener and leave them fully seduced.
If the entire work matched Atkins’ approach and execution, it’d be worth several more spins. Until that happens, I recommend tossing on the original Born In The USA and raising a beer can toast to The Boss himself and the kids on this tribute because hey, they tried.