PEOPLE music critic Chuck Arnold says the best tracks include the late E Street Band sideman Clarence Clemons

March 06, 2012 05:45 PM

It’s fitting that the two most exhilarating tracks on Bruce Springsteen‘s new album, Wrecking Ball, are the only ones featuring his beloved E Street Band sideman Clarence Clemons, that giant of a saxman who died last June.

First there’s the title cut, which starts as a folky strummer then builds to a rousing anthem for persevering through life’s most brutal blows. When Springsteen repeatedly sings the line “Hard times come and hard times go like a mantra, you can just feel him summoning all his considerable strength and spirit to carry on in the wake of the Big Man’s death. It’s a devastatingly touching moment.

Then on the gospel-charged “Land of Hope and Dreams,” Springsteen imagines boarding that train to heaven, and it sounds like Clemons is waiting and wailing for him at the pearly gates.

Much of Wrecking Ball, though, is about keeping hope and dreams alive in the struggle down here. As ever, Springsteen is the voice of the people, from the “Jack of All Trades” remaining optimistic about finding work with lilting, piano-laced grace to the despairing man who needs “your heart to survive “This Depression.”

Then there’s the Celtic stomp of “Death to My Hometown” – like “My Hometown” 28 years later.

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