This first taste of the “recording projects” Springsteen teased last year after concluding his Bruce On Broadway stint is another E Street Band-less endeavor (though his crew, among them Nils Lofgren, have been busy with their own extracurricular projects). The first track off a forthcoming solo LP, “Hello Sunshine” is Springsteen’s precisely-calibrated throwback to a particular style of late 1960s/early-1970s anti-anxiety radio balladry, perhaps epitomized by Glen Campbell’s magnificent 1968 version of Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman.” “Hello Sunshine” would also fit nicely on a playlist including Danny O’Keefe’s 1972 hit “Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues,” and Harry Nilsson’s 1969 cover of Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’,” which hit Number Two on the easy listening charts after defining the soundtrack to the film Midnight Cowboy, a classic drama of a failed American Dream.
It’s a nostalgic but timely sound, and not just for its supreme mellowness. Generating maximum warmth at the dolorous bottom of his register, Springsteen recalls some of his singing on Nebraska, but with zen melancholy in place of raw desperation. The pedal steel implies solidarity with country music, and by extension, its presumably red-state-tilting audience, a not-inconsequential gesture in 2019 from a reliable Democrat and Obama champion who has also been one of the more unifying artists in American history.
Of course, for anyone listening to AM radio in the very early Seventies, the sweeping strings and open road existentialism of “Hello Sunshine” represents not just an aisle-crossing sound, but one that conjures a sense of post-Easy Rider, post-Altamont resignation, a willful calm in the face of the fizzle of Sixties optimism. It’s fitting that Springsteen would vibe on this West Coast sound in our current era of lost promise, even if a young rocker like him might’ve found the style corny at the time of its chart dominance. It suggests a loss of innocence with the broadest of broad-stroke metaphors — lonely towns, empty roads, walking shoes, pain, rain, sunshine — and also surviving that loss. In that way, it shows Springsteen’s knack for taking the national pulse, and responding in kind.