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Springsteen’s Fallen E Street Bandmates Live Again (Briefly) on ‘High Hopes’

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Bruce Springsteen's new album revives "The Ghost of Tom Joad," but some fans will be curious just how big an appearance the ghosts of the late Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici make on the collection.

High Hopes is an oddball collection, consisting mostly of new recordings of lost songs that Springsteen tried out on stage or in the studio between the late 1990s and late 2000s. A few of the tracks, however, are "vintage" — or go back far enough to include the two dearly departed members of the E Street Band.

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What makes it odder is that the unofficial new member of the group, guitar hero Tom Morello, has been overdubbed onto some of the older recordings. The album veers into that strange territory where heaven and earth overlap on its second second song, "Harry's Place," which features a Clemons sax line and Morello's guitar riffing, even though the two presumably never met one another.

This is the second album in a row where producer Ron Aniello has been charged with making use of contributions from E Street Band members who passed away before he ever started working with Springsteen. "It definitely was (emotional) for me," Aniello told Rolling Stone. "It's like the moment when we made Wrecking Ball and we listened to Clarence's solo. I'll never forget playing that for Bruce... On 'Harry's Place' we added Tom Morello, [but] there's a nice Clarence moment there too... With 'The Wall,' what's fascinating to me is that it's an even older song. I think it's a 1990s record... just the band playing in a room. It's haunting. Danny is there, too."

High Hopes is such a patchwork of songs from different eras that even Springsteen and Aniello have been publicly confused about exact dates and origins of a few of the tunes, as have critics reviewing the album. "Harry's Place" has been alternately described as an outtake from either 2002's The Rising or 2007's Magic. When Springsteen first characterized it as having been written in the late 2000s (as a metaphorical exploration "about the Bush years"), fans were quick to jump to the web and point out that he'd quoted lyrics from it in a 2002 interview with Ted Koppel. Alerted to the discrepancy by Rolling Stone, Springsteen pieced together that he'd written a set of lyrics in the Rising era but come up with all-new music when it was recorded for (and rejected from) Magic.

Not all of Springsteen's fans are overjoyed about getting an album of compositions that got left on the cutting room floor — or, in the case of "American Skin (41 Shots)," "The Ghost of Tom Joad," and the title track, have already been officially released in different versions. "This record, again, is a collection of great songs that 99.9 percent of the artists alive would release at any given day in their lives," says Aniello. "With Bruce, people are going, 'It's all old stuff!' I just hope people can appreciate it for what it is." And, as other Springsteen-iacs have pointed out, if this album were being touted as a second volume of Tracks (the Boss's rarities collection) instead of a new album, the fan base would surely be experiencing uniform euphoria.

"'Born in the USA' was thrown off Nebraska," Springsteen reminded fans in an interview with XM. "So that gives you the parameters of how songs can make it or not make it. "Over that past decade it was a small handful of things that were close to being on the records that didn’t get on, and those were the things that were worked on for this particular album... A lot of the music was reworked through (Tom Morello) in a certain way, certainly the things that he’s very prominent on" (with the Rage Against the Machine guitarist getting a featured credit on no fewer than eight of the 12 tracks).

If Morello's shredding isn't to your tastes and you want a still bigger dose of whatever was left on the cutting room floor of Federici's, Clemons', and the rest of the E Street Band's work, take heart. The next archival project coming from the Springsteen camp will apparently be a boxed set centered around The River, with the promise of mondo amounts of unreleased material from circa '79. "One of the things we're looking at is a River project, sort of similar to the one we did with Darkness," Springsteen told Rolling Stone. Manager Jon Landau confirmed: "There's ongoing work on a River box set... And we're doing some remastering work on his first two albums as we speak." For Springsteen fans who know his vaults have barely been raided, there's plenty of cause for high hopes.

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