Bruce Springsteen's 1995 release "The Ghost Of Tom Joad" is almost always compared to his haunting 1982 masterpiece "Nebraska," and for obvious reasons; the form and mood of "Tom Joad" is the same as its predecessor--a bare minimum of instrumentation and the same desperate, gloomy, brilliant subject matter. But "Nebraska" had something this album doesn't--the former was spontaneous and unexpected, while "Tom Joad" was planned and anticipated. "Nebraska" was perhaps most effective because it followed the success of his mainstream hits like "Born To Run" and "The River," and its strictly vocal/acoustic/harmonica approach made it brilliantly different from Springsteen's previous chart-toppers. And that's where "The Ghost Of Tom Joad" fails; it simply cannot be viewed as genius as "Nebraska," because the public was ready for it, and already knew the power that the 1982 album spawned.
Aside from that, this album surely isn't a disappointment; it is stark, bold, and magnificently eerie, despite the slightly expanded instrumentation (at least when compared to the bare form of "Nebraska"). Outstanding compositions like the title track, 'Across the Border,' and 'My Best Was Never Good Enough' are all superb, while as a whole, the album holds up strongly as a testament to Springsteen's crusade for the downtrodden. Though it doesn't exceed "Nebraska," "The Ghost Of Tom Joad" is perfect for a sequel.