Bruce Springsteen
The Ghost of Tom Joad



by deathscreamingsheep USER (6 Reviews)
July 30th, 2009 | 13 replies

Release Date: 1995 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Often overlooked in favour of Springsteen's more expansive work, Ghost of Tom Joad is a gorgeous gem that requires attention.

The 90s are often regarded by fans as a difficult patch for the Boss. Having attained such stature to almost become mythical in the previous decades, Springsteen had become not only a national treasure but also a walking embodiment of the American dream. The Ghost of Tom Joad, an album of broadly acoustic story-telling musings and blue collar fantasies was never going to be numbered amongst the mighty Born To Run, nor does it carry the emotional depth of Darkness On The Edge of Town. Of all the albums produced without the E Street Band however, Ghost of Tom Joad is perhaps the most intelligent, poignant and sincere of any of Springsteen's less acclaimed work.

Opening with the title track 'The Ghost of Tom Joad', the minimal tone of Springsteen's new direction is set. Sparse acoustic backdrops, layered with subtle organs, strings and harmonicas make up most of the albums music, allowing Springsteen's distinctive voice and storytelling to guide the ebb and flow of the music. Here, there is none of the gritty power behind the Shakespearian drama of 'Backstreets' or the towering anthem 'Born to Run'. Instead, we here Springsteen at his most soulful and sincere, quietly strumming out tales of desperate mexican migrants or blue-collar workers left behind in tumbleweed backwater towns.

Listening to these lyrics, it is not hard to get caught up in the mythology. 'Youngstown' and 'The Ghost of Tom Joad' follow straight on from a long trail of literary American pioneers, from Steinbeck's 'Grapes of Wrath' which provides the album's namesake to even further, the writings of Thoreaux or Walt Whitman as they chronicled what would become a modern fable. Take for example lines from the title track:

Now Tom said "Mom, wherever there's a cop beatin' a guy
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries
Where there's a fight 'gainst the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me Mom I'll be there
Wherever there's somebody fightin' for a place to stand
Or decent job or a helpin' hand
Wherever somebody's strugglin' to be free
Look in their eyes Mom you'll see me."
Simplistic the words may be, but it is easy to begin imagining the campfire songs, the drumfires and wailing harmonicas that make up the inspiration for the album. Inspired by Maharidge's Journey to Nowhere, it is not simply these lyrics, but their context and the sparse music that surrounds them that creates a minimal but enthralling listening experience.

This is not to say that the album is without fault. If left to play, many of the songs seem to blend too much into one another, losing the individual nature that stories of struggling migrants in 'Shinaloa Cowboys' or the simple touch of 'My Best Was Never Good Enough' really merits. Similarly, the drama whilst brilliantly written never quite catches the pure brilliance of 'Backstreets'. However, under no circumstances should the work on The Ghost of Tom Joad be overlooked. If nothing else, the album provides a truly immersive texture and finds Springsteen's backwater dust-bowl sensibilities at their most earnest.

Recommended Tracks
Highway 29
Shinoloa Cowboys
The Ghost of Tom Joad

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user ratings (188)

Comments:Add a Comment 
July 30th 2009


Album Rating: 3.5

Hey, thought I'd give this album a review since nobody has touched it yet. Is there any way of formatting the quote box so that it fits in better with the right hand column? Either that or it's my browser, i'm not sure.

July 30th 2009


Good review. I've only heard the title-track which is very good.
Don't think you can do anything about the quote box, I'd say just put the lyrics on italics.

July 30th 2009


Listen to the title track live featuring Tom Morello. Best thing ever.

July 30th 2009


Album is real good. Also while I get what you're saying I don't think it really makes sense to compare anything on here to something like "Backstreets" - but that might just be me. I know what you're going for with the comparison but nothing was written/performed to really come across like "Backstreets". Maybe comparing something on Nebraska or Devils & Dust would've been more fitting - but like I said that might just be me.
Otherwise good review and about time this album had one!

May 6th 2012


Album Rating: 3.0

The title track with Tom Morello is an intense eargasm. shits all over the original.

May 16th 2016


Album Rating: 2.5

The most similar Springsteen album is probably "Nebraska". Very stripped down instrumentation and vocals and dark lyrics. The song I like the most is "Youngstown". Then ther are the title track, "Straight Time", "The New Timer" and "Galveston Bay".

November 3rd 2018


Album Rating: 2.0

This album suffers so much from being uninspired. I like Nebraska a lot because of its music's capability of creating a feeling that adds to the lyrics and their story-telling. With this one, a lot of the songs are just verses on repeat and the riffs and melodies are not strong enough to justify it. He just tells a story with each song, and even though some of these stories are worth telling, none of them would have needed to be delivered in a musical packaging that sounds this indifferent and just "there".

August 9th 2019


Album Rating: 3.0

A nice record, "Youngstown" has a lot more energy in live versions though.

Personal highlight for me is "Galveston Bay"

August 9th 2019


Album Rating: 2.5

Nice bump.

Will admit, there are a few alright songs on here (Youngstown is pretty good). But it's mostly just a bore. Maybe I'll bump this to a 3.0 one day.

August 9th 2019


Album Rating: 3.5

this is perhaps his worst album, still not bad. why doesn't anyone like human touch or lucky town, they rule

Contributing Reviewer
August 9th 2019


Album Rating: 2.5

Youngstown is great, and the title track. The rest of it concentrates too much on the story and not enough on the songs. Straight time is good too.

March 19th 2021


Album Rating: 3.5

Highway 29 is perfection.

August 12th 2022


Album Rating: 3.0

Another great driving record.

I really want to get into this one more, but you need a specific mood for it. Almost feels like a spoken-word album

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