Taylor Swift was the music personality that many predictions had releasing a surprise new country song this week after she showed up in Nashville and sprouted a mural to promote her new single “ME.” Ahead of the release, she’d been dropping little hints on social media, including a picture of baby chicks, assuring some her new song would be a swing back to her country roots. Sure enough, Swift’s “ME” turned out to be just another pop song, however slight of a switch towards Taylor Swift’s “country” era it might have been. But it was The Boss who ended up being the one springing a little bit of country music gold on us unexpectedly, and after engaging in his own tease campaign days before by posting desert pictures from the American West.
Ahead of the release of a new album entitled Western Stars on June 14th, Bruce Springsteen has made available the song “Hello Sunshine.” Despite the sunny disposition of the title, it is a moody, introspective, and dare you say country-sounding tune that is enjoyable on its own, and gets you excited about the idea of The Boss perhaps releasing another album in the vein of 1982’s Nebraska that bridged the gap between fans of folk, country, and Heartland rock. “This record is a return to my solo recordings featuring character driven songs and sweeping, cinematic orchestral arrangements,” Bruce Springsteen said in introducing the new project. “It’s a jewel box of a record.”
“Hello Sunshine” starts off with brushes on snare and acoustic guitar, finding a groove and melody initially reminiscent of Harry Nilsson that is earnest yet understated. When the piano builds in, the song begins to bring to mind vintage Glen Campbell, and country music’s folk-inspired 70’s. Then when the steel guitar enters after the first minute, the country ear really begins to find favor with “Hello Sunshine,” and the string section added to the second half seals the deal for this song being considered just as much classic country music as anything else, and deeply indicative of country music’s Nashville Sound era.
You’re drawn towards “Hello Sunshine” by the music, but you stay for the poetic notions Springsteen sews into the verses, speaking to the rarely covered theme of how the brokenhearted and lonely often crave despondent feelings and isolation to their own detriment, drawn to heartache due to feeling something being favorable than feeling nothing. Springsteen tackles this complex subject matter and range of emotions many can relate to with striking lyrical authoritativeness and passion, and then offers a relief valve by imparting the wisdom of why seeking out pain and loneliness can be so wrong-minded.
Don’t worry, this isn’t some instance where you need to be concerned about some washed up pop rock artist “going country” to attempt to salvage the last vestiges of popularity in their career. Bruce Springsteen could walk out on stage in a leotard and play a penny whistle and still sell out stadiums. The Boss is also not directly characterizing this song as country, it just happens to be styled that way because the mournful steel guitar and desolate space of the Western desert perfectly encapsulates the mood that the writing of the song begs for.
This is just one song, but if country music was looking to expand its borders and welcome artists from other genres with open arms, “Hello Sunshine” by Bruce Springsteen would be a much better alternative to the latest from Taylor Swift or Lil Nas X. And not just because it sounds country, but because the message of “Hello Sunshine” can resonate universally, and enriches both mind and soul. It’s something to be proud to call “county.”