Rooted in gospel but featuring a hip-hop interlude that makes this track unique in Bruce Springsteen’s catalog, “Rocky Ground” is an inspirational anthem — an attempt, perhaps, to write a “We Shall Overcome” for the 21st Century. As Michelle Moore sings “We’ve been traveling over rocky ground,” repeatedly, in the outro, Springsteen answers her by insisting “There’s a new day coming” and using a sampled voice crying out “I’m a soldier!” (taken from a vintage recording of the gospel song, “I’m a Soldier in the Army of the Lord”).
Moore, a member of the Victorious Gospel Choir, also handles the rap part, and performed it with Springsteen at shows from 2012 to 2014.
At no point does Springsteen sing with the passion of the “I’m a soldier!” vocalist, or express the angst that fills Moore’s rap (“Where you once had faith now there’s only doubt/You pray for guidance, only silence now meets your prayers”). He’s the voice, here, of hope and calm and compassion.
“This bold melding of church hymn, plain-folks lament and hip-hop protest bloomed on tour as Springsteen turned on his arena-preacher vibe,” wrote Rolling Stone when declaring “Rocky Ground” the seventh best song of 2012, though to my ears, the song really didn’t change much when it was performed live. (see sample performance, from the summer of 2013, below).
Background facts: Springsteen released “Rocky Ground” on his 2012 album Wrecking Ball. It also was the album’s second single. According to Brucebase, it was performed 43 times between 2012 and 2014.
On each of the 70 days leading up to Bruce Springsteen’s 70th birthday (on Sept. 23, 2019), NJArts.net will do a post on one of The Boss’ best songs of the last 30 years. We’re starting with No. 70 and working our way up. For more on the project, click here.
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