STYLE Traditional folk songs for large, acoustic-instrument-toting ensemble and over-earnest male voice.
WORLDVIEW "Street-corner music, parlor music, tavern music, wilderness music, circus music, church music, gutter music, it was all there waiting in those songs, some more than 100 years old" (the notes).
OVERALL QUALITY Mr. Springsteen has often struggled with not sounding smug; this time he struggles with not sounding as if he's not trying to sound smug.
STYLE First Lady of Alternative Country meets First Gentleman of Dire Straits.
WORLDVIEW "You will always have a lucky star / that shines because of what you are, / even in the deepest dark / because your aim is true. / And if I could only have one wish, / darling, then it would be this: / love and happiness for you" ("Love and Happiness").
OVERALL QUALITY Not many sparks but lots of glowing embers.
STYLE Adrenaline-fueled, hard-rock pop-punk.
WORLDVIEW "The abortion that you had, / it left you clinically dead and made it all that much easier to lie. / Said, 'It's nothing that I'm proud of.' / Well, it's nothing that I'm proud of" ("Spin").
OVERALL QUALITY Except for the relatively easy-going "Divine Intervention," these songs rush by in a blur, as if listeners might not notice the deficiencies if they go by really fast.
STYLE Alternative metal by numbers.
CAUTIONS "The Enemy" (profanity, vulgarity).
WORLDVIEW "I don't know where to go now. / I don't know if I'll ever get ahead, no. / It's all broken. / Not a word spoken, / and I don't know how to go out. / God, help me now!" ("Livin' in Sin").
OVERALL QUALITY As Buck Owens and Roy Clark used to sing on Hee Haw, "Gloom, despair, and agony on me."
STYLE Well-known love songs for operatic tenor, strings, and all-too-telling special guests (e.g., Kenny G).
WORLDVIEW That there is too a musical equivalent of a dozen roses and a candlelit dinner.
OVERALL QUALITY The non-English content of 12 of these 14 love songs renders the banality issue moot but does not answer the most pressing question: Why is this music called "easy listening" when it's so hard to listen to?
The problems with Bruce Springsteen's We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (Columbia) begin before the music starts. In fact, because the disc comes only in the DualDisc format (one side CD, one side DVD), some listeners won't hear it at all. "The audio side of this disc does not conform to CD specifications and therefore will not play in some CD and DVD players," reads a disclaimer on the back cover in print so tiny that the listeners the age of Mr. Springsteen will probably strain to read it.
In one unofficial test, the disc's audio side played in a portable player and a dashboard player but not in a home-model multi-disc player or an up-to-date desktop computer, giving rise to a most curious irony: Mr. Springsteen, who fancies himself the friend of the common man and these 13 folk songs that man's most authentic expression, has released an album that only the uncommon (or at best semi-common) can enjoy.