What helps is the sequencing, so that there’s never danger of getting stuck in a rut. The title track builds from a quiet strum to a fleshed-out track, leading well into the driving rock in “All The Way Home”. It’s a startling switch to the dusty landscape and blatant sex in “Reno”, and back to the more conventional “Long Time Comin’” (wherein he still intends to “get buck naked”). “Black Cowboys” and “Maria’s Bed” stay on the quiet side, until the latter bursts its seams with mandolins, chanted backup vocals and a country echo of “Mary’s Place”.
The second half of the album isn’t as well-paced, staying mostly within the same tempo and intensity. “Silver Palomino” continues the country theme, and there’s something in “Jesus Was An Only Son” that sounds like Tom Waits. “Leah” is a simple love song, and “The Hitter” seems most like a descendant of Nebraska, with the boxer talking to his ma. One song with a lot of potential is “All I’m Thinkin’ About”, another love song but sung in a near-falsetto with a hushed backing. Just as hushed, but more complicated, is “Metamoros Banks”, following a traveler’s journey backwards, so Bruce says, from his demise to the hope that made him set out.
Devils & Dust succeeds as a departure from the Springsteen norm. Only one E Streeter is here, and it isn’t Clarence, while his main foil is co-producer Brendan O’Brien. Steve Jordan plays whatever drums are heard, and of course Patti’s everywhere. It takes a while to sink in, but ultimately satisfies.
Bruce Springsteen Devils & Dust (2005)—3½