Springsteen has been known to wait as long as seven years between studio releases, but he’s been on a roll lately: Just a year after releasing the mostly acoustic Devils and Dust, he will return with his first-ever album of covers, focusing on traditional folk songs such as “Old Dan Tucker,” “Jesse James” and “Oh. Mary, Don’t You weep.” But it’s no somber solo acoustic disc. The album features art ensemble even larger than the E Street Band, with ten to twelve musicians on every track, and Springsteen is planning to tour with those musicians in the spring. “The album has a light, swinging, incredibly joyful sound to it — it rocks,” says Springsteen’s manager, Jon Landau. “It’s folk and old-timey instrumentation mixed with a large horn section and a big vocal-chorus sound.” Springsteen, who has been quietly working on the project on and off since as early as 1998, first heard many of the songs in versions by folk legend Pete Seeger. “He was the hovering spirit in this project.” says Landau. And although Springsteen has been pursuing the kind of political activism that has been a hallmark of Seeger’s career, Landau says there’s no particular message in the release. “Bruce just loved the music,” he says. “It’s really something original.”
This story is from the March 23, 2006 issue of Rolling Stone.