Springsteen wrote the song "All The Way Home" for Southside Johnny to use in his album Better Days which was released in 1991. The songs "Long Time Comin'" and "The Hitter" were written and performed during Springsteen's solo Ghost of Tom Joad Tour in 1996. "Devils & Dust" is also known to have been written previously, and was featured in soundchecks during The Rising Tour beginning in the summer of 2003 and the following year during the Vote for Change Tour in late 2004. (Springsteen had "Devils & Dust" on his set list for at least one Vote for Change show, but at the last moment decided to perform a 12 string guitar rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner", which he would later release for free through his official website.)
The songs "Reno" and "Long Time Comin'" came as a surprise to many listeners. "Reno" describes in graphic detail an encounter(sex) with a prostitute. "Long Time Comin'" has the word "fuck" in the lyrics. Springsteen explained the two songs by revealing that "Reno" was about a man so in love with his lost wife that his desperation could not be vanquished even by a prostitute ("It wasn't the best I ever had / not even close") and that the expletive in "Long Time Comin'" was not negative but, in fact, a positive affirmation ("I ain't gonna fuck it up this time," referring to raising his new child).
The closing song, "Matamoros Banks", is told in backwards time and explores the thoughts of a dying immigrant crossing the border from Mexico. It seems to continue a story first told in "Across the Border" in The Ghost of Tom Joad.
The disc was also released in the DualDisc format. This puts the regular album on one side of the disc, and special content, like 5.1 surround sound and videos on the other side of the disc in DVD format. The DVD side of the disk features Springsteen performing and commenting on the writing/creation of "Devils and Dust," "Long Time Comin'," "Reno," "All I'm Thinkin' About," and "Matamoros Banks." Lyrics to the songs accompany the playing of the Surround Sound portion in a karaoke style.
The marketing was successful. It granted Springsteen his seventh number one—and fourth number one debut—on the Billboard album chart, his second for an album containing only previously unreleased content and his first ever without the E Street Band. After the initial release period, however, sales quieted down; as of February 2006 it had attained gold album but not platinum album status in the U.S.
Starbucks had been considered a possible retail outlet for the album, as it had accounted for about a quarter of all sales for the recently successful Ray Charles's Genius Loves Company. Starbucks however declined to sell copies of Springsteen's new album, sparking some headlines. Starbucks rejected the album not only because of the song "Reno" but because of stances that Bruce Springsteen had taken on corporate politics and Springsteen not granting approval for a cobranded disc and promotional deal that prominently featured the Starbucks name. Springsteen's label, Columbia Records, balked when the idea was floated, citing the blue-collar champion's well-known opposition to merchandising his music.
"There were a number of factors involved...[Lyrics] was one of the factors, but not the only reason," Ken Lombard, president of Starbucks Entertainment, told Reuters.
Springsteen's solo Devils & Dust Tour commenced with the release of the album.
During the February 8, 2006 Grammy telecast, Springsteen gave an impassioned live solo performance of "Devils & Dust", adding on "Bring 'em home" at the finish, then immediately turned and left the stage without staying to receive his partial standing ovation. His Grammy appearance was somewhat reminiscent of his performance of "My City of Ruins" during the post-September 11, 2001 America: A Tribute to Heroes telethon.
The songs are all copyrighted in 2005, except "All the Way Home" the copyright of which dates to 1991.