Tires Rushing By in the Rain is, more or less, a folk album: one man and his guitar. I keep thinking how well John Hammond might have liked it. It’s much more what John thought he was getting when he signed Bruce to Columbia Records 41 years ago than what emerged. That isn’t a matter of right and wrong—John Hammond was not off-base, Bruce had just temporarily hidden several enormous chunks of himself.
Martyn Joseph, like the rest of us, knows the full story but he’s not trying to do what Bruce Springsteen did – or for that matter didn’t. Nor is it necessary for him to have these songs in order to express himself eloquently. His other albums testify to that.
So Tires Rusing By in the Rain isn’t a tribute album in the ordinary sense. Martyn loves these songs, this artist, and he’s doing his best not to live up to them but to use them to tell us something about him.
Every track on this album will be measured against its original Bruce Springsteen version. There’s nothing unfair about that but remember: Success here is not a matter of outdoing the original, it’s about finding something new, about Martyn Joseph finding a piece of himself that synchs with the song and offering it to his listeners as a new route across the same map. It’s a more audacious trek than you might think. Forty years into Springsteen’s career no other artist I can think of has tried any such thing, even though Bruce has for many of those years ranked as one of the finest songwriters rock ever produced.
Tires Rushing By in the Rain isn’t by any means a Bruce Springsteen album. It’s what it is supposed to be: A Martyn Joseph album. A damned good one, too. If you and Martyn are just meeting, count yourself lucky. If you already know him, then get your eyes off the text and turn it up!
Dave Marsh – official Bruce Springsteen biographer and Rolling Stone journalist
Of all the artists who have inspired entire albums of covers, Bruce Springsteen is up there leading the field with Dylan and The Beatles. However, while there have been several tribute collections, both of individual songs and entire albums, to the best of my knowledge, this is the first album of cover versions by a single artist.
Of course, it raises the question as to who it’s for and why. Springsteen devotees will, naturally, always want the originals while I suspect that, while appreciating the occasional live inclusion or even the odd recorded cover, a fair number of Joseph’s fans would prefer to hear him sing his own material. Both factions will be missing out if they don’t give this a fair hearing. Suffice to say, no less a figure than Springsteen biographer Dave Marsh not only endorses the album but also provides the sleeve notes.
Martyn has, of course, been dubbed the Welsh Springsteen and the Boss is clearly an influence, so perhaps there was a certain inevitability to the album. But this triumphs in its sheer simplicity, just Joseph, an acoustic guitar, harmonica and the songs, stripped down to their bare bones in a way that, to the surprise of at least one Springsteen fan (myself) actually brought a new light and clarity to several of the lyrics.
Opening with Growin’ Up (a song that shows Springsteen’s own Dylan influences), there’s 17 songs and I have no intention of going though them one by one; suffice to say the choice is well made, balancing anthemic classics such as The River (a song which, with its lines about coming from down the valley, is as pertinent to Joseph’s roots as Springsteen’s) and a bashed out Badlands with the lesser known numbers from the canon like Happy and The Promise, the latter providing the album’s title.
As a storyteller, Joseph is a perfect fit for songs like Thunder Road (his version exposing the raw nerves of the song’s emotional core), The Ghost Of Tom Joad, One Step Up and Blood Brothers while you can hear his own background and heritage bleeding into Factory.
Picking favourites is an impossibility, but at the time of writing If I Should Fall Behind and Cautious Man are tying knots in my heart and for those who reckon there’s no point doing a cover version unless you do something different with it, may I just say -No Surrender with ukulele. Marsh calls the album a new route across the same map. Rip out the SatNav and take the journey.
Mike Davies, October 2013
“All I’ve got is a red guitar, three chords and the truth.” The immortal words sung by the irrepressible Bono back in the days of Joshua Trees when U2, prompted by their muse to explore American music culture in ‘Rattle & Hum’, took the liberty of improvising on Dylan’s ‘All Along The Watchtower’ which Hendrix had in turn, made his own. Similarly armed with just an acoustic guitar (maybe even a red one) and at one point a ukelele, but with considerably more chords than three, plus the songbook of Bruce Springsteen, Martyn Joseph has delivered an record which pays homage to a major inspiration and influence on his career.
The songs of Bruce Springsteen have been a constant motivation and have provided the occasional diversion in Martyn’s own live performances over the years. He isn’t known as ‘The Welsh Springsteen’ without good reason and it’s not just that he covers the songs in as much that the songwriting approach of the two men is not a million miles apart.
‘Tires Rushing By In The Rain’ is pretty much a labour of love as both Joseph and no less than Springsteen chronicler Dave Marsh explain in the sleeve notes. (And for those as pedantic about spelling as myself, yes it is ‘tires’, as spelt by Springsteen himself; the line taken from one of his long lost masterpieces, ‘The Promise’, which finally received a release as part of the ‘Tracks’ outtakes compilation, albeit tagged onto the single disc version rather than the expansive 4cd set and which is covered on this set).
The collection isn’t simply a copycat tribute or a chance to simply reinterpret the songs as there will be the inevitable comparisons with the originals. As Joseph himself explains, “I have always found a reference point in Bruce’s material that I was able to connect with and always carry that honesty and integrity to the stage.”
Rather than take the easy option of choosing purely acoustic material as Springsteen did with ‘Nebraska’ and ‘The Ghost Of Tom Joad’, (from which albums only one song appears) Martyn has drawn on the full range from the Bruce collection, from 1973’s ‘Growin’ Up’ (which appropriately opens the set) right up to ‘Land Of Hope And Dreams’ from Springsteen’s most recent album, almost a dozen albums are mined. The selections include the familiar (‘The River’, ‘Badlands’) and the slightly more obscure (‘Happy’ from the ‘Tracks’ collection and the aforementioned ‘The Promise’ – a song which Springsteen seems slightly at odds with yet remains one of his fans’ most treasured performances). There’s also the challenge of including some of the more subdued and musically sparse songs (‘Cautious Man’ and ‘Factory’ for example) alongside the more raucous tub thumpers normally played with full band accompaniment which explode to life in concert – so the takes on ‘The Rising’ and ‘Badlands’ are set in more restrained arrangements not dissimilar to the occasional curveballs Springsteen throws in interpreting his own material. It’s undoubtedly harsh to be over analytical, but these are the takes which work less well than the likes of the unprecedented four ‘Tunnel Of Love’ songs – an album which may well be the one which is closest in feel and content to Joseph’s own oeuvre. The way he delivers ‘Walk Like A Man’ and ‘One Step Up’ from that record are incredibly natural and he inhabits them as much as if they were his own. it would be an interesting exercise to hear his takes on some other songs from that album which remains one of Springsteen’s more underrated works – ‘When You’re Alone’ and ‘Valentines Day’ would be perfect material for Joseph to take a stab at.
For a highlight, look no further than ‘Blood Brothers’ which comes over as is a sensitive and emotionally charged performance, as the song deserves and originally penned as tribute to Springsteen’s friendship with his E Street Band. It is actually one of the songs which is recorded pretty faithfully to the original but is clearly a song and sentiment with which Joseph feels a connection.
As Marsh has pointed out, it’s highly surprising that no-one has attempted something similar previously bearing in mind the song writing ability of Springsteen, but it seems appropriate that it should be an artist with the confidence, the standing and the integrity of Martyn Joseph. He has done something here for which many will have been waiting yet above all, he pulls no punches in allowing the song writing to shine through – it’s the songs which are the real stars.