Wait, did Bruce Springsteen just announce a new Bruce Springsteen album?
Bruce Springsteen said that 2021 would be full of surprises, and his podcast with former President Barack Obama and his controversial Jeep ad would certainly qualify. That he'd be awarded this year's Woody Guthrie Prize is somewhat less shocking -- the real surprise there is that John Mellencamp got it before him. But that Bruce would seemingly announce another new album, less than six months after "Letter to You," while accepting the award ... Well, that's officially unexpected.
Jay Lustig of NJarts.net provided his typical expert coverage of the private event, taped from Chateau Springsteen (a.k.a. The Barn) on April 21. The 65-minute stream featured four songs -- Guthrie's “Tom Joad” and “Deportee” along with “Across the Border” and “The Ghost of Tom Joad” -- and an acceptance speech-slash-interview that included this notable bon mot (emphasis mine):
“California was an enormous influence on some of my most topical writing, through my ’90s, through 2000s, and even now, on a record coming out soon that’s set largely in the West. I got very involved in telling those Western stories through my work.”
As word of this got out, it caused Springsteen aficionados the world (or at least the internet) over to proclaim, "Say what now?" As we all know, less than two years ago we saw the release of "Western Stars," another album "set" in the west. (Which, by Bruce's definition, can technically be anywhere west of Trenton.) Could another one really be imminent? ("Westerner Stars," to quote Blogness correspondent Deb Filcman?)
Granted, this could be a reference to one of Springsteen's perpetual "in the can" albums (he mentioned one in his "Letter to You" interview with Brian Hiatt at Rolling Stone). But there was no reference to that one coming out "soon," or ever, and I think there would have been more buzz about leftover tracks if there was another album's worth of release-worthy material waiting in the wings from the "Western Stars" sessions.
So one can only assume (hope? guess?) he's referring to music written and recorded during those long, socially-distanced pandemic months when, let's face it, he could have been doing anything out there in Colts Neck. It feels a little odd for him to release another studio album when there's so much in-the-vault material that could make it under people's Christmas trees this year -- "Tracks 2," anybody? -- but clearly Bruce is revving things up as he looks into the lights of the oncoming train, and Sony's ideal release schedule is not his top priority.
Or maybe he's just messing with us? Either way, we await whatever "surprise" is next in store with baited breath, and in the meantime, here's one of the performances in honor of Woody: