By Rebecca Bulnes
By Laurie Charles
By Chuck Strouse
By Lee Zimmerman
By Laurie Charles
By Falyn Freyman
By Hans Morgenstern
Although Parking Free never stumbles, one song in particular strikes a slightly too-universal chord among anyone who's ever seen love gone wrong. "She Went to Texas," a plaintive guitar-and-harmonica ode to soured romance, backed only by Roy Bittan's gentle piano colorings, has a melody that comes uncomfortably close to "I Blinked Once," from Steve Forbert's Streets of this Town, which isn't surprising in light of the fact that E Streeter Garry Tallent produced Forbert's record. Despite the similarity, "She Went to Texas" explores areas Forbert never has, bringing sadness and desperation to life with its vivid imagery and emotional inflection:
In Laredo she walked the streets
Felt her fingers growing cold
Blackbirds made the sounds of flapping sheets
Sunset colors turned to gold
And I slept near the empty steel mill
Gray and metal as far as I could see
I'm not bound to nobody for nothing
But darling, darling, darling, darling, I ain't free
Not to be confused with the song "Seeds" on the live box set of 1986, the "Seeds" on this album has been on the back burner for several years. Springsteen was smart to resurrect it for the new album. This "Seeds" begins with a haunting harmonica intro, then leaps into the story of a displaced family seeking the American dream in a land where such notions have been deferred by modern hardship: "We've been blowin' around/From town to town/Looking for a place to land/Where the sun could break through the clouds/And fall like a circle/A circle of fire down on this hard land." Against a sparkling piano line, Springsteen sings compellingly about a place where "even the rain it don't come 'round, don't come 'round here no more" and the wind slams the back-porch door shut and twists and turns up the sand, leaving the scarecrows "face down in the dirt of this hard land." A vivid image, as valid today as when it was written in 1985.
Parking Free closes with two duets - one in which Springsteen pairs with himself, and one in which he shares the mike with Patti Scialfa. In the buoyant but lyrically oblique "Right Now," the Boss uses overdub in order to duet with himself, jumbling the continuity of the chorus by singing flatly "give me" then shouting "right now" to form a schizophrenic sound. As the momentum builds to the bridge, the pace quickens, the rhythms explode, and Springsteen rushes headlong into the chorus: "The right time/And the right place/Have never been friends/And you might just disappear/Right now."
The final track, the weepingly gentle "Freehold Lullaby," is dedicated to son Evan, but is, in fact, Springsteen's recollection of his own birth. "Trouble on the bus again today, son/I'll never get ahead this way," he sings, recalling his father, a construction worker and bus driver. As a father himself, Springsteen finds himself dealing with his own sense of having outgrown the freedom and abandon of youth. The maturity of "Freehold Lullaby" assures that he'll never tell his boy to "turn that damn thing down," and Scialfa's mournful contralto lends the perfect sense of fulfillment. The whole affair - full of nobility, promise, and dignity - is reminiscent of "Walk Like a Man," and is equally powerful.