Bruce Springsteen’s new album, “Letter to You,” feels like a postcard from a bygone era — one long before texts, FaceTime and Zoom.
Released on Friday, it might as well have arrived by Pony Express from decades ago.
Certainly, this is a nostalgia trip back to a more innocent, less scary time with an old friend — and his old friends. That would be the E Street Band, which, after not appearing on last year’s “Western Stars” LP, is back working with the Boss for the first studio album since 2014’s “High Hopes.”
Even more significantly, this is the first time Springsteen and the E Street Band have recorded an entire studio album while playing all together since 1984’s classic “Born in the U.S.A.”
No doubt, this was a family reunion in every sense. Even Clarence Clemons — who passed away in 2011 — is there, in the spirit of his nephew Jake Clemons on sax.
That warm family feeling is a familiar, comforting presence throughout “Letter to You,” which is a sonic tonic for these troubling times. That sense of history and deep-rooted connectivity from having rocked through the ages together extends to George Theiss — Springsteen’s last surviving comrade from his first band, the Castiles — whose 2018 death inspired the new LP.
From the moment he sings “One minute you’re here/Next minute you’re gone” on the opening track “One Minute You’re Here” — which serves to bridge the wistful country-folk of “Western Stars” to “Letter to You” — there’s a sense of loss and longing at the heart of it all.
Gracefully confronting his own aging, the 71-year-old Springsteen directly addresses being the “Last Man Standing” from the Castiles on one of the standout songs: “Rock of ages lift me somehow/Somewhere high and hard and loud/Somewhere deep into the heart of the crowd/I’m the last man standing now.”
Despite the fragility of mortality in counting “the names of the missing,” there’s a muscularity to the music with the E Street Band that, pre-pandemic, was clearly meant for these tunes to be taken on tour in arenas and stadiums.
“Letter to You” — which, although framed as a romantic rocker in the title track, continues the careerlong conversation Springsteen has been having both with his fans and his beloved band — ends with hope amidst the heartache on “I’ll See You in My Dreams”: “We’ll meet and live and laugh again . . . For death is not the end.”