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Bruce Springsteen has spawned more (and better) bootlegs than almost any other rocker, but he’s always been parsimonious with his official releases. Now, finally, he’s issued a compilation of 56 previously unreleased recordings plus 10 B-sides ranging from 1972 to the present. It’s a shame he let these recordings molder in the vaults for so long. Many of the tracks on Disc 1, which runs parallel to his first four albums, will be familiar to bootleg devotees, such as the folky “Bishop Danced” and “Santa Ana” and the rockin’ “Thundercrack” and “Seaside Bar Song,” which should have become a Springsteen anthem. (Bootleg-savvy listeners will notice better audio quality on Tracks, but also less exuberance than on surreptitiously taped live performances). The release really gets cooking on Disc 2, with several of the best cuts from The Ties That Bind, a brilliant early version of 1980’s The River that inexplicably was never released; those tracks include the intelligent pop numbers “Be True” and “Loose Ends,” as well as a much more moving version of “Stolen Car” than The River included. Unfortunately, the air goes out of the project just as the Boss sacks his stalwart E Street Band on Discs 3 and 4 and decides, misguidedly, to pursue the smoother, synthesized approach that renders his last four albums unexciting. If nothing else, Tracks reminds us how integral the E Streeters were to the Springsteen formula (so much so that, this week, Springsteen announced a summer 1999 tour with the band). Unlike today’s Boss, they were able to take sad, serious, and anxious songs (such as, for instance, “Shut Out the Light,” included in the boxed set) and make them engaging rather than soporific.—Louis Jacobson