Bruce Springsteen’s passion for storytelling has taken countless forms over the years – he called his early songs “twisted autobiographies.” Chapter and Verse is the companion album to his memoir Born to Run, following the tale from his garage-band youth to his current glory days, with five tunes he’s never released before. For Chapter and Verse he’s chosen a revelatory mix of classics and obscurities – he leans hard on the hard-luck tales in his songbook, as the Jersey romance of “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” gives way to the dashed dreams of “The River” or “Brilliant Disguise.” You can hear how the scared kid who sings the Nebraska nightmare ballad “My Father’s House” isn’t so far from the hungry-hearted husband and dad of “Wrecking Ball” or the Nineties deep cut “Living Proof.”
For the previously unheard gems, he reaches all the way back to 1966, to his teen garage band the Castiles, with the original “Baby I” and the Willie Dixon blues standard “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover.” He goes back to his pre-E Street group Steel Mill, with the guitar-and-cowbell 1970 stomp “He’s Guilty (Judge Song),” drenched in Danny Frederici’s organ. The acoustic demo “Henry Boy” is a witty rough draft for “Rosalita,” though it has its own story to tell: “They had the gall/To write your name up on the girls’ room wall.” But the prize is “Ballad of Jesse James,” a March 1972 outlaw lament in the style of Van Morrison or the Band, with a dash of Gregg Allman in Springsteen’s drawl. You can hear it in his voice already – he’s a 22-year-old kid restless to wear a man’s shoes, taking on the myths of the Old West when he’s still stuck playing bars in Jersey. He’s fired up about the territory he wants to explore. And over the course of Chapter and Verse, you can hear him get there.