Bruce Springsteen's a reliable rocker. His lyrics aren't always the best, and his voice could use a little touchup, but people love him anyway. Why? He sings about the common man. And he's talented as hell.
On "The Ghost of Tom Joad," Springsteen finds himself at his peak--even if he had to leave the rock arena to do it. Sure, his electric guitar-fueled rockers are superb (find one rocker who's had a more lasting impression on various generations, past and present, than the Boss; and if you say McCartney, I'm gonna hit you). However, these gentle (mostly) acoustic numbers are sublime--graceful folk/country songs that sound the bells for the downtrodden (and Springsteen's multi-instrumental talent).
"Straight Time," for example, deals with a former criminal who can't seem to live a decent life; "Highway 29", about a fateful Bonnie and Clyde couple; "Youngstown," about a factory worker who needs a reprieve; "The Line," about a border guard who falls in love with a refugee; "My Best Was Never Good Enough," a darkly humorous tune about a man who just can't win, no matter what advice he's been given; and several other songs, most about immigrants and their troubles.
Yeah, it's a little opressing at first. Springsteen can be that way, when he's writing from his soul. And the album never really picks up, tempo-wise. It's not something you're gonna party to; but if you want good quality music, that'll make you think about yourself and the world, and shine a better light on your relations with others, then "The Ghost of Tom Joad" is your album.