Designed as a companion to Bruce Springsteen's 2016 memoir Born to Run, Chapter & Verse provides something of an aural autobiography, tracing Springsteen's development from a Jersey garage rocker into one of the great American songwriters. Springsteen compiled the 18-track disc himself, intending his selection to mirror the themes in his book, so he balances epics with intimate miniatures since both kinds of songs can capture his quests for deliverance and escape. He alternates his well-known anthems ("Born to Run," "Badlands," "Born in the USA"), with a few other popular singles ("Brilliant Disguise," "The Rising") and a host of deep cuts, all of which tend to downplay both his romantic and hard-rocking sides. Those aspects of Springsteen's musical personality are reserved for the opening act of Chapter & Verse, a five-song stretch of unreleased recordings that capture his early days. First up are two songs by the Castiles, his '60s garage band. On "Baby I," the Castiles fuse the Byrds and the Yardbirds, creating a great bit of unholy noise, and they also slam through Bo Diddley's "You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover." This is a rough preamble to Springsteen's career -- the basic grammar that fueled the E-Street Band -- but Steel Mill's post-hippie 1970 hard rocker "He's Guilty (The Judge Song)" shows the first sign of how Springsteen could fill arenas. Rambling and ragged, the Bruce Springsteen Band's 1972 "Ballad of Jesse James" provides a transition from this sound to the kind of winding lyricism of "Henry Boy," a solo 1972 side that fits right alongside the 1972 version of "Growin' Up" from Tracks." These two songs feel like the foundation for the gorgeous "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)," the 1973 song where Springsteen's talents come into full flower. On Chapter & Verse, "4th of July, Asbury Park" is positioned between "Growing Up" and "Born to Run," the fulcrum between the early years and the maturation, and that helps fuel the story Springsteen wants to tell with this album: he's not only illuminating the themes from his memoir, but illustrating how he grew as an artist. That he's able to tell that tale within the course of an 80-minute compilation is remarkable.
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine