Personnel: Bruce Springsteen (vocals, guitar, harmonica, keyboards); Marty Rifkin (pedal steel guitar); Soosie Tyrell (violin, background vocals); Danny Federici (accordion, keyboards); Chuck Plotkin (keyboards); Garry Tallent, Jim Hanson, Jennifer Condos (bass); Gary Mallaber (drums, percussion); Lisa Lowell, Patti Scialfa (background vocals).
Producers: Bruce Springsteen, Chuck Plotkin.
THE GHOST OF TOM JOAD won the 1997 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album.
THE GHOST OF TOM JOAD isn't a rock and roll record. Named for the protagonist of John Steinbeck's Depression-era novel THE GRAPES OF WRATH (Springsteen cites John Ford's film version in the booklet) and performed largely on an acoustic guitar with the occasional support of an Appalachian mountain fiddle and pedal steel guitar, it's part folk album, part protest record, part short-story collection.
It'll inevitably be compared to NEBRASKA, the similarly stark song-cycle Springsteen foisted on an unsuspecting world in 1982. Yet TOM JOAD is more of an arranged album, with careful guitar arpeggios supported by an eerie bed of sustained synthesizer chords (played by E Street Band veteran Danny Federici and Springsteen) and a few full-band folk arrangements. It's also more of an explicit statement. Whereas the characters in NEBRASKA were lost souls wreaking havoc on the highways and backroads of the badlands, those on TOM JOAD are a mix of working-class Americans and immigrants running across (or into) the country in search of a pot of gold that isn't there. The characters are modern, but the stories are as old as the Great Depression that Steinbeck chronicled--Springsteen's message being that after all these years we're still knee-deep in it.
There are some familiar Springsteen vignettes--the conflicted friendship of two border guards in "The Line," the family line of steelworkers in "Youngstown"--but the characters themselves are new, and the clearness of their anger is almost radical. Pondering the corporate bosses who built a steel plant in Youngstown, used up the local resources, then walked away, the narrator's father says, "Them big boys did what Hitler couldn't do." Springsteen does offer the working class a chance at redemption. "Galveston Bay" brings together a Vietnamese fisherman, a disgruntled Vietnam vet and the Ku Klux Klan; by the time it's over, two Klansmen are dead and the American vet has learned, if not to overcome his prejudice, to at least live and work side by side with his Vietnamese compatriot. It may be a not-so-veiled lesson for the flag-waving patriots who misinterpreted Springsteen's anthem "Born In The U.S.A."
Rolling Stone (5/13/99, p.64) - Included in Rolling Stone's "Essential Recordings of the 90's."
Q (2/96, p.66) - Included in Q's 50 Best Albums of 1995.
Q (3/00, p.124) - 4 stars out of 5 - "...a sister album to the earlier, similarly sparse Nebraska set, with evocative character study the order of the day."
Melody Maker (11/18/95, p.37) - Bloody Essential - "...a series of fleeting glimpses into the harsh, desperate lives of America's modern-day migrants....12 fables...[that] illuminate how the outside forces of chance and fate shape personal destiny..."
Musician (2/96, p.89) - "...Springsteen stakes a claim to being one of us. His songs have articulated the hopes and fears of this country's working class with such eloquence that, 20 years after he became the Boss, fans still look to him for empathic insights into populist concerns..."
Village Voice (2/20/96) - Ranked #8 in Village Voice's 1995 Pazz & Jop Critics' Poll.
Q (Magazine) (p.120) - "[T]he author's empathy for the dispossessed resonates from first note to last."
Mojo (Publisher) (p.57) - Ranked #76 in Mojo's "100 Modern Classics" -- "Bruce channelled the haunted hungry ghosts of Steinbeck, John Ford and Guthrie..."
NME (Magazine) (11/18/95, p.46) - 9 (out of 10) - "...Springsteen has not just purloined Steinbeck's character as a totem for the downtrodden, he has discovered the Nobel prize-winner's deep, hard-won compassion....With THE GHOST OF TOM JOAD, Springsteen has...re-established himself as a moving voice in a tradition of social documentary..."