"Well, Jesus kissed his mother's hands / Whispered, 'Mother, still your tears / For remember the soul of the universe / Willed a world and it appeared.'" — from "Jesus Was An Only Son"

The first time I saw Bruce Springsteen in concert, 31 years ago in a small theater in Norfolk, Virginia, I might've called it a "religious experience." Springsteen and the E Street Band put on a 4½-hour show—yes, four and a half hours—that was part rock concert, part theater … and all spectacle. I've seen The Boss 15 times since, and he is, in my opinion, the best live gig in the history of rock 'n' roll.

Part of that is because of his personality. He's energetic, intelligent, funny—and a great storyteller. I've often thought he'd make a terrific preacher—if he ever got a firm grasp on the gospel. He's always included spiritual imagery in his songwriting. He seems to understand the concepts of sin, the cross, confession and redemption. And yet he often misses the mark theologically—sometimes just barely, and sometimes almost blasphemously.

With his new CD, Devils & Dust, it would seem that the Rev. Mr. Springsteen has fully arrived, albeit in the guise of a folk singer. His most spiritual album to date—eight of the 12 cuts include religious references—Devils & Dust is haunting and beautiful, chock full of songs of hope, love, and redemption as well as tales of sin, brokenness, and confession. Sounds an awful lot like the real world, eh?

The album is Springsteen's third folk album, following 1982's brooding Nebraska and 1995's slightly more buoyant The Ghost of Tom Joad. But Devils & Dust is easily the most melodic—and upbeat—of the three.

The spiritual imagery begins right ...

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