Picks and Pans Review: American Babylon

updated 11/13/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/13/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

Joe Grushecky & the Houserockers

This Pittsburgh blue-collar rocker, who has been knocking around since the late '70s, is getting yet another shot at the charts, courtesy of his pal Bruce Springsteen. The Boss, who first saw Grushecky in the early '80s playing live at former E Streeter Clarence demons' Red Bank, N.J., club, Big Man's West, produced this record, sat in on guitar on some tracks and cowrote two songs. Springsteen's aural imprints are all over, from the melancholic keyboard fills prevalent on his own recent, quieter work to harmonica riffs that sound straight from the Darkness on the Edge of Town sessions.

Still, the grittiness generated by these kindred musical spirits sounds genuine. One of their collaborations, "Homestead," is an anthem to the labor struggles of steelworkers at a mill in Homestead, Pa. Grushecky, the son of a Pennsylvania coal miner, makes his patriotic, working-stiff allegiances clear on the chugging, blues-tinged "What Did You Do in the War" ("Did you join the National Guard?/Did you give 'em hell like Vice President Quayle?/Did you burn your draft card?").

Other tracks, like the trite "Labor of Love," can't be enhanced even by Springsteen's delicate mandolin accompaniment. There's no doubt who's the Boss; still, it's excellent on-the-job training for Grushecky. (Razor & Tie)

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