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New Springsteen album due in April; tour to follow

NEW YORK (AP) _ The seeds for Bruce Springsteen's new album ``Devils & Dust'' were sown nearly a decade ago, when the singer-songwriter began his first-ever solo acoustic tour.

``I was so excited after playing on that tour, I'd get off the stage and go write,'' Springsteen told The Associated Press about those 1995-96 dates. ``Then I put those songs on the shelf for a while, until I had a chance to revisit them.''

The visit is now complete, with a 12-song album due in stores April 26 _ Springsteen's first release of all-new material since his Sept. 11-themed ``The Rising'' in July 2002. A tour was planned to follow the release, although Springsteen said it was unclear if he would perform alone or with a small band.

Two of the new album's songs, ``The Hitter'' and ``Long Time Comin','' were written and performed on ``The Ghost of Tom Joad'' tour. But not all the material dates back that far; the title track was written around the start of the war in Iraq, Springsteen said.

``It works as a metaphor for all the music underneath it, the individual stories of people wrestling with their demons,'' Springsteen said of the title track. ``A lot of it is set in the West, in what feels like a rural setting.

``It's about people working through their confusions, sometimes well and sometimes tragically,'' he said in a telephone interview earlier this week.

Springsteen opted to record without the E Street Band for ``Devils & Dust.'' The core group was Springsteen on guitar and other instruments, producer Brendan O'Brien on bass and drummer Steve Jordan, who had produced last year's ``23rd Street Lullaby'' album by Springsteen's wife, Patti Scialfa.

In keeping with his pattern of recording, the new album is a quieter, more acoustic affair than ``The Rising.'' Springsteen, 55, has alternated between large-scale rock records followed by more introspective material since 1982's ``Nebraska'' was released two years after ``The River.''

Pedal steel guitar, harmonica and violin fill in the sparse, rootsy arrangements. Springsteen, who says his vocal range has expanded with age, provides some higher-pitched vocals on the track ``All I'm Thinking About.''

Springsteen said the accompanying tour would be an acoustic affair whether he performs alone or with a band, targeting theaters and smaller venues.

``I was actually signed as an acoustic act, and I've always enjoyed playing acoustic,'' Springsteen said. ``Even when I was in a band, back in my early days, I was always writing songs that weren't meant for the band.''
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