Unless you’re a huge Neil Young fan, you may have missed it: In April 2014 he released an album, A Letter Home, with virtually no fanfare. It contains solo covers of material by songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Willie Nelson and Gordon Lightfoot, recorded in a vintage vinyl recording booth at Jack White’s Nashville studio.
Young has a strong interest in sonic fidelity, but that wasn’t the case this time around. White has said that that people who criticized the album for being “scratchy and lo-fi” had actually “completely missed the point, which was that we were obfuscating beauty on purpose to get to a different place, a different mood.”
That mood is very evident on the cover, below, of Bruce Springsteen’s “My Hometown,” a plainspoken song about Springsteen’s hometown, Freehold.
In the first verse, the narrator remembers his father instilling a sense of hometown pride and belonging in him. In the second, he sings of the racial tensions of the ’60s, which hit Freehold as well as many other New Jersey cities. In the third, he sings of the hard economic times of the ’80s, when the song was released.
In the last verse, the narrator and his wife talk about “getting out” and “heading south.” But then he takes his own son out driving, as his father once did, and tells him about his hometown. Will he still leave? Perhaps. But not before trying to get his son to feel that same hometown feeling he does.
Springsteen included the song on his blockbuster 1984 Born in the USA album, and it became a Top 10 single. He doesn’t perform it much in concert these days, but it remains a powerful piece of work, and Young’s heartfelt cover does it justice.
New Jersey celebrated its 350th birthday in 2014. And in the 350 Jersey Songs series, we marked he occasion by posting 350 songs — one a day, from September 2014 to September 2015 — that have something to do with the state, its musical history, or both. To see the entire list, click here.