NILS LOFGREN – ” The Albums “

Posted: December 23, 2022 in MUSIC

For over fifty years, Nils Lofgren has been astonishing audiences with his wizardry on the guitar.  At the age of just nineteen, he was a key contributor to Neil Young’s classic album ‘After the Gold Rush’ and this experience helped to launch a glittering career in music.  Hugely respected for his work with Neil Young and Crazy Horse and as a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band since the 1980s, Lofgren consistently delivers tremendously high levels of technical ability, along with passion and musical freedom. 

After four albums with his band Grin in the early 1970s, Lofgren embarked on a solo career, beginning with his critically-acclaimed self-titled 1975 debut, which was described as, “…the best rock album this year,” by the influential Jon Landau in his Rolling Stone review.  Over the years, Lofgren has shared studios or stages with the likes of Lou Gramm, Lou Reed, Patti Scialfa, Willie Nelson and Jerry Lee Lewis.  Twice, he was invited to be part of Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band alongside Rick Danko and Levon Helm.  Back in the day, he was well-known for his on-stage athletics, playing the guitar while literally somersaulting on a trampoline. 

Probably the first time most of us heard of Nils Lofgren was when he appeared on Neil Young’s ‘After The Goldrush’ album. He was 19 at the time and had his own band, Grin. Their four albums, released in the wake of ‘After The Goldrush’ are all recommended but it was when Lofgren delivered his first solo album in 1975 that he really took off. Bedecked in rock’n’roll gypsy clothing, an ace guitarist (who also played accordion and piano) and who used his high school gymnastics background on stage when he would play a guitar solo while somersaulting on a trampoline, his live shows were quite spectacular. Nils remains a close affiliate of Young and Crazy Horse, but he’s also been an integral part of Springsteen’s E Street Band since around 1984 while he has continued to deliver his own albums which never fail to delight.

Although revered for his other-worldly fretboard skills, there is much more to Nils Lofgren.  His singing voice is simply gorgeous, silken smooth and full of emotional warmth.  Also, he is a fine songwriter, equally comfortable creating out-and-out rockers and melodic ballads.  Lofgren is especially adept at arranging extended songs with engrossing sonic interludes and circular musical journeys, making his many live albums a particular joy.  Those classic songs seem to change and grow each time they’re played.  Indeed, it’s on the stage that Lofgren’s talent truly shines.  One of my favourite gig experiences was being in the middle of the front row, smiling from start to finish as this wonderful multi-instrumentalist played the harp and the accordion, tap-danced the percussion and soared with his mesmerising guitar.  Lofgren’s 1997 ‘Acoustic Live’ album is a stunning example of his talent, featuring newer versions of many great songs. 

Nils musical journey is fascinating, His heart and warmth come through in his music and songs if you’re new to the guitar-maestro’s work, then these are some of the best place to start. 

GRIN

In 1968, Lofgren formed the band Grin with bassist George Daly (later replaced by Bob Gordon), and drummer Bob Berberich, former players in the DC band The Hangmen. The group played in venues throughout the Washington, D.C., area. During this time Lofgren met Neil Young while Young was performing at the Georgetown club The Cellar Door, and began a long association. Young invited Lofgren to come to California and the Grin trio (Lofgren, Daly and Berberich) drove out west and lived for some months at a home Neil Young rented in Laurel Canyon. Lofgren would eventually use his album credits from working with Young to land Grin a record deal in 1971.

Daly left the band early on to become a Columbia Records A&R Executive and was replaced by bassist Bob Gordon, who remained through the release of four critically acclaimed albums of catchy hard rock from 1971 to 1974, with guitar as Lofgren’s primary instrument. The single “White Lies” got heavy airplay on Washington, D.C.-area radio. Lofgren wrote the majority of the group’s songs, and often shared vocal duties with other members of the band (primarily drummer Bob Berberich). After the second album he added brother Tom Lofgren as a rhythm guitarist. Grin failed to hit it big, and were released by their record company.

“Grin” (Spindizzy/Epic) 1971:

‘Like Rain’ This song, from the first of Lofgren’s albums with his band Grin, grows and ebbs and flows in absorbing layers, including his accordion.  It’s an early example of his romantic lyricism and ability to craft gorgeously melodic, sweeping ballads.  We hear both sides of Lofgren’s vocal: the smooth style familiar from most of his songs and a gruffer, grittier tone at key moments, over tinkling piano, swirling keys, powerful drums and Tom Lofgren’s guitar.  ‘Like Rain’ is the opening track on this tremendously dynamic album, full of adventurous sounds that might be called country-rock. 

In the brilliant notes that accompany Lofgren’s career-collecting box-set ‘Face the Music’, he says of this song: “Still one of my best songs and mainstays of my live performances.  Wrote it in my old room I shared with brother Tom at my parent’s Wilmett Court home in Bethesda, MD.  Only 17 years of age, I seemed to get lucky, tapping into the feeling that beautiful relationships seemed an impossibility in our crazy world, and at best, would come and go, emotionally and inevitably.”  It’s incredibly mature song writing from the young Nils Lofgren.

“1+1” (Spindizzy/Epic) 1972:

Kicked off by the delicious pop confection “White Lies,” “1+1” is the best of Nils Lofgren’s work with his trio Grin. That single never got higher than number 75, though, and the album sold very little outside of Lofgren’s home base in the northern Virginia and Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. Nonetheless, this is an enjoyable recording produced by Neil Young associate David Briggs. Lofgren’s guitar playing is strong throughout, and the songs are often cleverly constructed and quite catchy, if lightweight. His high-pitched singing voice sounds better when he’s not trying to be gravelly and works fairly well in the power pop settings that inform most of this disc.

‘Moon Tears’ Is a great early rocker from Lofgren’s Grin, full of energy and dynamism.  The sound is full and powerful and euphoric, despite the fact that it was written as a heartbroken lament to lost love.  Lofgren’s singing is hard and edgy, gritty and desolate, while his guitar is stirring with a typically vibrant solo sweeping through the song.  At just over two minutes, it’s a short, direct song that explodes into life and leaves you wanting more: a perfectly-crafted song worthy of any of the great rock acts of the early 1970s.

“All Out” (Spindizzy/Epic) 1973:

Gone Crazy” (A&M) 1973

While still a member of his first serious band Grin, Nils briefly joined Crazy Horse, writing two songs for their eponymous 1971 album. He re-recorded one of them for Grin’s final long player, ‘73’s “Gone Crazy”, as a eulogy to late Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten.

Nils Lofgren

With the passage of time “Nils Lofgren” debut album has come to be regarded as an overlooked classic, and with good reason — Lofgren has rarely been in better form on record as a songwriter, vocalist, musician, and bandleader. While Lofgren doesn’t lay down a firestorm of guitar on each selection (with his piano unexpectedly high in the mix), when he does solo he makes it count, and the rough but tasty chordings and bluesy accents that fill out the frameworks of the songs give the performances plenty of sinew.

After Grin disbanded in 1974, Lofgren released his self-titled debut solo album, one of Nils Lofgren’s most popular songs. Nils is on fire on this one. His guitar playing lights it up all over this track. Written about Keith Richards, this song was released on Lofgren’s first solo album simply entitled “Nils Lofgren“. The record was released in 1975. The power trio on this great album featured Nils Lofgren on guitar and vocals, the great Aynsley Dunbar on drums and Wornell on bass.

Keith Don’t Go (Ode to The Glimmer Twin)’  was written as a letter to one of Lofgren’s musical heroes, The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, urging him to take care of himself during those turbulent years.  It’s a way of saying thanks for the inspiration and joy Richards gifted the world with his music.  Lofgren’s riffs and and the driving percussion are urgent and insistent and this remains a fan-favourite.  However, it’s worth noting that the song sounds even more ominous when Lofgren performs it as a slower acoustic version; played this way it has the feel of something more plaintive, a desperate plea.  ‘Keith Don’t Go’ is one of Lofgren’s most powerful, impactful songs.

Just as importantly, this is as good a set of songs as Lofgren has assembled on one disc, consistently passionate and forceful, from the cocky “If I Say It, It’s So” and “The Sun Hasn’t Set on This Boy Yet” to the lovelorn “I Don’t Want to Know” and “Back It Up,” while “Keith Don’t Go (Ode to the Glimmer Twins)” comes from the heart of a true fan and “Rock and Roll Crook” suggests Lofgren had already learned plenty about the music business by this time.

The production on Nils Lofgren is simple but simpatico, giving all the players plenty of room to shine, and Lofgren’s rhythm section (Wornell Jones on bass and Aynsley Dunbar on drums) fits the album’s funky but heartfelt vibe perfectly. Lofgren has made harder rocking and flashier albums since his debut, but he rarely hit the pocket with the same élan as he did on “Nils Lofgren“, and it remains the most satisfying studio album of his career.

‘Goin’ Back’  The closing song from Lofgren’s acclaimed 1975 solo debut is just a classic tune.  There’s an insistent rolling rhythm and flowing keys, over which Lofgren delivers a softly wistful vocal, almost dreamy in its nostalgic tones as he sings of, “…goin’ back to the days // when I was young enough to know the truth.”  As time passes and our innocence fades, our recollections of youth hold something magical over us and that sense of what we’ve lost is bittersweet, “I can recall the time // When I wasn’t ashamed to reach out to my best friends.”  Lofgren captures those feelings in ageless melody.

A tour de force of unquenchable vitality and disarming subtlety” is how Rolling Stone magazine described Lofgren’s self-titled solo debut in 1975, the same year he visited the Old Grey Whistle Test for his first appearance on UK television. This song was also the title track of a promotional live album much sought after by Nils collectors.

“Back It Up”

Finally available on wide release 32 years after it was a limited-edition, and much coveted, vinyl release sent to 1,000 radio stations and critics (each one with a sticker hand-glued to the cover), this 44-minute live radio station concert is half as long and more than twice as exciting as Nils Lofgren’s official live concert souvenir, 1977’s “Night After Night”Al Kooper, who was then doing pre-production on Lofgren’s second solo effort, sits in on keyboards and the stripped-down band also featuring Nils’ brother Tommy on second guitar and a bassist and drummer keeps the sound lean and mean.

There are only seven tracks, with five grabbed from Lofgren’s then recently released debut, along with two tunes from Grin, the band he recorded four albums with that also included his brother. In retrospect, the sound is a little dry and the 2007 CD reissue doesn’t remix it or add any additional tracks (there may not have been any), but this is nevertheless a classic album, arguably Lofgren’s finest, The singer and guitarist also plays decent piano on a stunning version of the Goffin & King nugget “Goin’ Back,” rearranged substantially from the Byrds’ more popular cover.

The only real rockers are the opening title track and the closing “Beggar’s Day”; the latter tune, dedicated to Crazy Horse’s Danny Whitten (Lofgren was a member of that band for a brief period), is a highlight of Lofgren’s catalogue.

Cry Tough

Nils Lofgren turned up the guitar heroics on his 1976 album “Cry Tough” and the results were a lot closer to what fans had hoped for from the whiz kid from Grin. There’s no denying that the guy is a great guitar player, but his gifts as a guitarist and songwriter have been maddeningly inconsistent, and while 1975’s self-titled solo debut was one of his high-water marks as a tunesmith, he gave himself more room to strut his stuff on guitar here without bringing many memorable tunes to the table.

It’s significant that two of the sharpest and most effective tracks on “Cry Tough”, “Incidentally … It’s Over” and “Can’t Get Closer (WCGC),” feature the same rhythm section that backed Lofgren on his debut; produced by David Briggs, they sound straightforward, compelling, and emotionally direct, while most of the rest of the album (produced by Al Kooper) features a larger band, a glossier approach, and somehow allows Lofgren to effectively sound lost on his own album. Lofgren certainly plays up a storm on “Cry Tough”, and his soloing on “You Lit a Fire” and “It’s Not a Crime” is inspired.

“Cry Tough” was voted number 10 in the 1976 NME Album round up; The song was released on the “Cry Tough” album in 1976. The song featured a host of musical legends. Al Kooper who had founded the band Blood Sweat & Tears and also produced all the early Lynyrd Skynyrd albums Kopper played organ on the track.

The great Chuck Rainey who was a studio legend and played bass on some of the classic Steely Dan recordings as well as hundreds of other albums was also along for the ride on the song.

I Came to Dance” 

“I’m not Bob Dylan, but I never miss a beat” sings Nils Lofgren on 1977’s “I Came to Dance”, a very polished collection of nine songs produced by the guitar virtuoso and drummer Andy Newmark. As well as Lofgren’s own “Code of the Road” and “Happy Ending Kids.” and “Goin’ South” are both so quirk. Everything is in tune, played to perfection, and without a bum note, but therein lies the problem. It’s all too perfect when rock & roll needs a little mayhem. On “To Be a Dreamer” Lofgren’s personality gets lost in the “tried to take it serious” approach he writes about in “To Be a Dreamer.”

However, the re-working of Jagger/Richards’ “Happy” does inject some excitement into the grooves, a plodding, funky, and very cool rendition with Lofgren’s best vocal on the record, surrounded by other singers who take a cue from Jimmy Miller’s party atmosphere on “Tumblin’ Dice.” This final track is where the assembled cast finally gets it — they cut loose and have fun with Mick and Keith’s lyrics, come to think of it) never sounding so direct. The entire album would have come to life if all involved stopped being so precise and just let it rip.

I Came to Dance” in particular received a scathing review in the New Rolling Stone Record Guide. The grooving song “I Came To Dance,” was the title track of the album with the same title. The record was released in 1976. “I Came To Dance,” was the opening track on the album. The song written by Nils Lofgren. One of the things we love so much about this song was the inclusion of the great piano player Reverend Patrick Henderson on the track. The man played piano with such a soulful funky groove that was a hallmark of some of those classic Doobie Brothers recordings that you thought was Michael McDonald. Sometimes it was, and sometimes it was the Reverend. 

“Nils”

Nils Lofgren’s song “No Mercy,” was released on the 1979 album entitled “Nils“. This was an album in which the record company looked to try and turn Nils into a big name by bringing in a producer named Bob Ezrin who had worked with Alice Cooper, Pink Floyd, Flo & Eddie. Deep Purple and many other classic rock bands.

“No Mercy,” with special effects recorded at Madison Square Garden, The double entendre being the rock musician oftentimes works on the same stage as the fighter, of course, punching away in the ring of life. Nils Lofgren is a veteran who has performed with Springsteen, Neil Young, and so many others, working here with producer Bob Ezrin brings in his various contacts which colour the recordings he makes, insuring a product that is as much the producer’s as it is Nils Lofgren’s. With backing vocals and a big sound, “I’ll Cry Tomorrow” is smooth and blends in nicely with this collection. Randy Newman’s “Baltimore,” with solid drumming by Alan Schwartzberg and a great hook, gets six minutes plus to play out. It’s is fun to hear Newman’s work put in this setting. Wagner and Lofgren write the semi-acoustic pop “Shine Silently,” with a charming vocals by Nils.

The song “Shine Silently,” was released on the great “Nils” album. The record was released in 1979. While Nils is really well known for his killer guitar work, we hope this list defines just how brilliant he was writing ballads.

It, and the Lou Reed/Nils Lofgren song “I Found Her,” are the two best tracks on the album. “I Found Her” sounds like ’60s pop that neither Lou or Nils have been affiliated with, truly unique for both artists. “A Fool Like Me,” also written by the duo, has more pop sensibilities than Reed’s work on some of his own recordings during this period — his three titles with Nils Lofgren here are a good addition to his songbook.

In ‘No Mercy’, the changes in pace and volume almost seem to reflect the passing rounds and the ebb and flow of the boxing match narrated through the verses.  Engineer Brian Christian visited an inner-city bout to sample the sounds of a speed bag, anthem and bell that can be heard at the beginning and in the middle of the song, lending it an authenticity to match the lyrics all about the harshness and brutality of the ring: “I hungered this title but now it don’t seem right // I fight back tears while I destroy his life.”  In his ‘Face the Music’ box set notes, Lofgren remembers working the corner for martial artist Danny Boccagno and the contrast between the viciousness of the fights and the honour, respect and dignity of the fighters.  This inspired the song’s broader theme: even good people sometimes need to inflict harm on others in order to survive or protect their own.  For this 1979 solo album, Lofgren teamed up with producer Bob Ezrin, who was known for his work with the likes of Deep Purple, Pink Floyd and Lou Reed.  It was Ezrin who suggested collaborating with Lou Reed, which would lead to co-writing a set of songs and the great 2019 album ‘Blue with Lou’ decades later.

The result was a brilliant album. But that really wasn’t much of a surprise because all of Nils records leading up to the 1979 album have been brilliant.

“Wonderland”

Wonderland” is a surprisingly commercial work from guitarist/vocalist Nils Lofgren, opening with a very catchy and impressive “Across the Tracks,” followed quickly by the beautiful “Into the Night,” which has flavours of Springsteen, though Lofgren’s vocal is more precise and radio-friendly than his boss, the Boss. That’s the strange thing about the music biz — when a voice is superior and the music more commercial, it still takes a back seat to personality. And take, for example, the only cover here, Bobby Womack’s classic “It’s All Over Now.” Everything’s in tune, but the band sounds like it was programmed by a computer and Lofgren’s vocal has none of the drive found in his originals.

Indeed, on the very next track, “I Wait for You,” which has that Springsteen swagger with Lofgren’s to-the-point presentation. The excellent production by the singer along with his rhythm section — bassist Kevin McCormick and drummer Andy Newmark – The title track reflects that observation perfectly. The vibes on “Lonesome Ranger” add spice, and having Edgar Winter, Carly Simon, and Louise Goffin adding their voices to the mix on this LP is indicative of the class spread all over these tracks. More cohesive than the 1979 classic Bob Ezrin-produced Nils album, “Wonderland” has tons of great moments, sparkling guitar work, and a groove that is commanding. The key thing that’s missing to bring music this good to the masses is an overpowering persona, and it seems Nils Lofgren is just too nice a guy to put that driving arrogance behind the sounds to catapult them onto AM and FM radio. Even more of a pity is that Backstreet/MCA couldn’t do it for him.

In ‘Wonderland’, Nils Lofgren describes the world as it should be: a world in which, “…the boys and girls like to dance on the way to school // And even the pretty girls think that being nice is cool.”  It’s a straightforward message, calling for more compassion and less conflict and judgement.  In today’s social media-driven environment, lines like, “And you don’t get singled out every time you’re wrong or right,” are still especially resonant.  The original is a catchy slice of well-crafted pop-rock.  But it’s definitely worth checking out the multiple other versions to be found on live albums, like ‘Acoustic Live’, in which the bright strum shimmers alongside Lofgren’s heartfelt lyrics.

Also released on the album “Wonderland“. The record was released in 1983. “Across the Tracks,” was a very popular video on MTV in the early 1980s. Nils Lofgren’s gymnast background was on full display in the video. Such a great song that rocks hard and just make you feel good.

“Flip”

When Steve Van Zandt took a break from The E Street Band in 1984, Bruce Springsteen called upon Nils as his touring replacement, the boost to his profile propelling his ’85 album “Flip” into the charts. This song, with its video showcasing Lofgren’s famed gymnastic and trampolining talents, gave him his only entry in the UK singles chart.

The tenth album from Nils Lofgren and his first for Columbia Records is a very polished affair with excellent production from Lofgren and Lance Quinn. The material is written by Lofgren, and it is all strong to very strong, with lyrics bordering on lecturing the listener. “Flip Ya Flip,” the title track, and “Big Tears Fall” are the most commercial songs here, “Flip Ya Flip” a real odd one, though. Lofgren calls the guys “buddy,” telling them to “lift your pretty head, hold it high” and the gals he calls “sister,” terms of endearment for sure from a macho figure who has full-fledged membership in the “E Street” gang. Is the title track about an off-colour gesture or life on a trampoline or indiscernible sexuality? Perhaps all of the above. “Secrets in the Street,” “From the Heart,” and “Delivery Night” have their moments as well, and if any of this material got consistent airplay, there’s a good chance “Flip” could have found an audience beyond Lofgren’s loyal cult following. His guitar-playing is first rate, and the sonics are more pronounced than Jeffrey Baxter’s ideas on 1981’s “Night Fades Away“, “Sweet Midnight” has that ever-present ’80s snare drum prominent in the mix with Lofgren’s guitar right next to it, and the vocals perhaps a little too far in the background, no doubt one of the problems. It’s another tune which should have been able to garner some kind of attention, if not on Top 40 at least in the dance clubs. An image of Lofgren in mid-air adorns the yellow cover, with the album title upside down — anyone who witnessed the band Grin live got to see Lofgren do somersaults onstage.

Lofgren is an important artist who deserves a breakthrough hit and a retrospective combining the most accessible tracks from his rich catalogue. “Flip” is a decent outing worthy of more than a few spins.

“Code Of The Road”

This release illuminates Nils Lofgren’s life as a cult solo artist, long before the masses learned to recognize him as the other headband-clad guitarist in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. Billed as BBC One tapes from London’s famed Hammersmith Odeon, a good portion of this 17-track affair seems markedly clinical. The band is undeniably tight, the sound is crisp, and the playing is well-executed, yet the respective presences of brother Tom Lofgren and former Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels drummer Johnny “Bee” Badanjek the show gets hotter as the disc progresses, with the greatest dust kicked up on trademark Lofgren anthems like “The Sun Hasn’t Set (On This Boy Yet),” “I Came to Dance,” and “Keith Don’t Go,” an unabashed salute to the embattled Rolling Stone’s legal mishaps. It’s not hard to see why Lofgren remained such an acquired taste before Springsteen scooped him up.

This release might be a decent starting point for non-believers, but long-time fans should probably stick with their well-worn copies of “Night After Night,” instead.

“Silver Lining”

Over the years, Nils Lofgren’s solo output has been inconsistent and erratic; you never know if a Lofgren album will be excellent, decent, competent, mediocre, or flat-out disappointing. But when Lofgren is inspired, he’s definitely inspired — and one of his more inspired albums is 1991’s “Silver Lining”. 1991 was the year in which Lofgren turned 40, and it was also the year in which he resumed his solo career after spending six years as a sideman for Bruce “The Boss” Springsteen. While Lofgren has provided his share of uneven albums, “Silver Lining” is impressively solid and consistent. The singer/guitarist who wrote all ten of the songs soars on everything from tough, gritty rockers like “Walkin’ Nerve” and “Gun and Run” to the sentimental “Valentine,” which employs Springsteen on background vocals. And the Boss isn’t the only distinguished guest who joins Lofgren on “Silver Lining” other guests include Billy Preston (of “Nothing From Nothing” and “Will It Go Round in Circles” fame) on organ and keyboards and ex-Beatle Ringo Starr on drums and background vocals.

With a groove that fell somewhere between John Waits “Missing You,” and The Police and Sting’s Every Breath You Takes, Nils Lofgren created his own magical masterpieces with his heart warming song “Valentine.” With Bruce Springsteen supplying backing vocals, Nils wonderful song “Valentine,” presented fans with a song for the ages. Two all star legendary musicians performing together and showing us all how its done. Not just among our favorite Nils Lofgren songs, but one of our favourite songs of all time. Thanks Nils! The song “Valentine,” was released on Nils’ Silver Lining” album. Released on Rykodisc in 1991.

‘Valentine’ Built on an insistent, grooving rhythm and engrossing guitar interludes, ‘Valentine’ is particularly notable for the way Lofgren’s voice combines with that of Bruce Springsteen, who guests on the song.  They work off each other perfectly, two great artists, whose vocals genuinely complement one another.  Kevin McCormick’s clean production highlights the sheer quality of Lofgren’s guitar-work, which always feels so natural in the context of the song, never intrusive or like an optional extra.  It just flows and the last couple of minutes are simply exquisite.  People will remember the harmony vocal with Springsteen but it’s Lofgren’s playing that sets this apart.  ‘Valentine’ is an example of the fine song writing and musicality for which fans and other artists love Nils Lofgren.

On ‘Girl in Motion’, Lofgren delivers one of his finest vocals, a gorgeously catchy and absorbing melody that remains with you long after listening.  It’s a song that’s also always a highlight on his many live recordings, a song that seems to flex and grow during his shows into something hypnotic and spectacular, whether performed acoustic or electric.  ‘Girl in Motion’ envelopes the listener in sweeping currents of guitar, modulating, bending and twisting.  It’s the perfect example of how he finds the dramatically fine balance between guitar that feels free, expressive and inventive and yet remains within the melodic structure of the song, growing from it and within it rather than added onto it.

Although Lofgren is a rocker first and foremost, he is hardly oblivious to soul music and the blues. “Trouble’s Back” is especially bluesy, and “Bein’ Angry” is greatly influenced by ’60s and early ’70s soul. The latter is among the tunes that employ Preston, and his organ playing proves to be a major asset. Like Tina Turner, Prince, and Sly Stone, Preston is an artist who has both rock and R&B credentials — and because Lofgren is obviously going for a rock/soul ambience on “Bein’ Angry,” Preston is perfect for the tune. Never the least bit disappointing, “Silver Lining” is an album that Lofgren can easily be proud of.

Crooked Line

This great song was released on Nils Lofgren’s second Rykodisk album entitled “Crooked Line“. The album was released in 1993. The album served as the follow up to his very successful “Silver Lining” album released in 1991. The wonderful 1980s CD label signed a great one with Nils Lofgren.

“Crooked Line” evokes Lofgren’s Young-ian roots, and it’s therefore appropriate that original mentor Neil Young guests on the sessions. Neil adds distinctive background vocals and harmonica to the country-folk ramble “You,” and lets loose with some grungy electric guitar for “Drunken Driver.” Not that he steals any of the limelight from Lofgren, who offsets his trademark tough but melodic string-bending with tasteful acoustic pop forays like “Shot At You.” The guitarist leaves flashy pyrotechnics to others, preferring to cut his material with direct, slashing simplicity.

“Damaged Goods”

Lofgren remains, in essence, a guitar hero, and on the album’s 12 tracks, he seems to have spent more time working on the riffs and textures he could get out of his guitars than on anything else. He is accompanied by drummer Andy Newmark and bassist Roger Greenawalt (who also produced, engineered, and mixed the record), with some string and choral parts added here and there, and Branford Marsalis sitting in on saxophone on a couple of tracks. The songs all have lyrics and vocals, but those seem to have come after the fact, as addenda to complete tracks built out of Lofgren’s guitar playing.

Sometimes he sings of love gone wrong, other times he sings in the identities of characters. (“Only Five Minutes” is about an ex-con who falls off the wagon and goes back to jail on New Year’s Eve; “Trip to Mars” details the complaints of a veteran police officer.) Occasionally, he seems to be singing from the heart, or at least the head, as in the philosophical “Life” (co-written with Lou Reed). But it’s still the guitar work that matters. “Heavy Hats” concerns a man’s taking on responsibility as his child is about to be born, and “Nothin’s Fallin'” sounds like a sincere account of an adult son dealing with an aging father’s illness.

“Acoustic Live”

“Acoustic Live” is a small treasure for long time Nils Lofgren fans. Capturing Lofgren alone in front of an appreciative audience, knocking out such favorites as “You,” “No Mercy” and “Keith Don’t Go,” plus six new songs. Even with the new songs, there are no real revelations, only a selection of little gems that will certainly bring a smile to the face of any long-time Lofgren fan.

Highlights also include “Black Books’ is a song full of resignation, a dark country narrative that delivers genuine heartbreak and sorrow.  Lofgren’s voice aches as he tells his tale: “One last time from Freddie’s Joint // We drove out to Lover’s Point // Shared our last kiss eye to eye // Spoke of tender times long past // Said they weren’t meant to last // Too many different needs to satisfy // She wants new shoulders to cry on // New back seat to lie on // And she always gets her way.”  The original on ‘Damaged Goods’ is an absorbing song but it’s the version on Lofgren’s acclaimed ‘Acoustic Live’ album that remains one of my all-time favourites.  His fluid guitar solo, fingers sweeping up and down the fretboard, is a natural, growing, organic thing.

“Nils Lofgren Band Live”

Nils Lofgren is an accomplished solo artist in his own right, having issued numerous critically acclaimed (yet often commercially overlooked) solo albums. He’s also issued countless live albums over the years, and 2003 saw the latest entry, “Live”. As with most double-disc live sets from veteran rockers, various entries from Lofgren’s career are touched upon — including a wink to his early band, Grin (which is represented by “White Lies” and “Lost a Number”), plus a classic track from his brief affiliation with Crazy Horse (the Danny Whitten-penned “I Don’t Wanna Talk About It”). Also included are newer solo tracks, such as the hop-a-long album opener, “Puttin’ Out Fires,” as well as a rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” — which is not the expected instrumental Hendrix-esque guitar showcase . As fans have known for decades, Lofgren is one heck of a multi-talented gentleman, and “Live” offers further evidence.

“Sacred Weapon”

“Sacred Weapon” is Nils Lofgren’s 17th studio album in a career that’s spanned more than 30 years, and it’s to his credit that after all this time it’s hard to know what to expect from the guy when he makes a record. Above and beyond all else, Lofgren is a hell of a good rock & roll guitar player, but while he gives himself some powerful six-string workouts here, on “Sacred Weapon” he seems more interested in baring his soul and looking into the nooks and crannies of human relationships than in reeling off solos. Vocals have never been Lofgren’s strongest suit, and his voice, reedy and wavering, but there’s a naked emotion in “The Comfort Your Love Brings,” “You’re Not There,” “Whiskey Holler,” and “In Your Hands” (the latter a duet with Willie Nelson) that compensates for the flaws in his instrument, and he puts a soulful force behind his performances that’s inarguably affecting. The songwriting follows suit, and for every loose-limbed rocker like “Can’t Take the Rock,” one or two deeply personal songs cut to the emotional quick, and the album includes musical homages to two fallen heroes, Walter Payton (“Tried and True”) and David Briggs (“Mr. Hardcore”). Some of “Sacred Weapon” works and some of it doesn’t, but what does stick is powerful and heartfelt enough to make this one of Lofgren’s best solo albums since 1991’s “Silver Lining“, and proof he can write fine songs of his own when he’s properly inspired.

“Old School

Listen to Nils guitar playing on this track. Wait a second, check that. Listen to Nils’ guitar playing on every track, on every album and every live performance. One of the most enjoyable guitar players to listen to of all time. Its as simple as that. This great guitar driven track entitled “Old School,” was the title track from the Nils Lofgren “Old School” album. The record was released in 2011.

As its title implies, getting older is on Nils Lofgren’s mind for his first album of new material since 2006. Besides the title track, “60 Is the New 18,” “Miss You Ray” (dedicated to Ray Charles), and “Ain’t Too Many of Us Left” speak to the frustrations facing an aging rocker in a young man’s game. To his credit, Lofgren doesn’t modernize his style to endear himself for a younger audience, but has written 11 out of these dozen selections in the same melodic rock format that he’s adhered to since his days in Grin. The distinctive electric guitar sound that made Lofgren so invaluable as a backing soloist is tamped down for the most part, although it weaves throughout songs that rely more on melody, lyrics, and singing than hotshot six-string work. Guest vocals from Paul Rodgers and Lou Gramm minimally enhance a few tracks, but Sam & Dave’s Sam Moore shines on his duet for the chorus for “Ain’t Too Many of Us Left,” a song that also gives Lofgren a chance to unwind on guitar.

Heartfelt ballads such as the lovely “When You Were Mine,” the haunted memories of the closing “Why Me,” the acoustic “Let Her Get Away,” “Love Stumbles On” wistful recollection, and especially “Irish Angel” work particularly well with Lofgren’s grainy, somewhat compromised voice. Perhaps his advancing years have shifted Lofgren’s focus from the rockers that used to dominate his albums to the slower, more reflective compositions here. Regardless, he’s in good form; spirited on the rockers and appropriately melancholy on the softer material.

The Loner: Nils Sings Neil”

Nils Lofgren is a guitar hero who does great work in the employ of others and is wildly inconsistent as a solo artist and vocalist. Lofgren is at his best when he can strut his stuff on electric guitar, so why would anyone want to listen to an album of him performing Neil Young tunes on acoustic guitar and piano? “The Loner: Nils Sings Neil” but against the odds it turns out to be a sweet and heartfelt surprise, a moving interpretive album and one of Lofgren’s best solo efforts to date. Lofgren can’t bring the same kind of fire to his acoustic guitar work that he does on electric, and his voice is a wavering tenor that doesn’t carry a lot of weight, but Lofgren has the advantage of recording and touring with Young in the past, and it’s clear that these songs speak to something in his heart — he knows this music, and when he sings he hits a clear and unaffected emotional sound.

At first, it’s hard not to wish that Lofgren had overdubbed a bit of accompaniment on these tracks, but let the album sink in and the spare, minimal recording and arrangements work in favour of the songs; the nakedness of these performances brings the emotional core of the material front and centre, and Lofgren sings “Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” “Don’t Be Denied,” and “Don’t Cry No Tears” with sincere clarity, allowing each word to carry its full message. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Neil Young is one of rock’s finest songwriters and Lofgren has chosen 15 superb selections from his catalogue, but there’s more to cutting a good cover than simply picking a good song. “The Loner: Nils Sings Neil” demonstrates that Lofgren knows what makes these songs so powerful, and he doesn’t cover up the essentials with these spare but soulfully direct interpretations; the result is a small and simple triumph.

“Blue With Lou”

Nils’ first studio release in eight years features five previously unheard songs co-written by Lou Reed. Produced by Nils and Amy and recorded live at his home studio in Arizona with longtime collaborators Andy Newmark (drums) and Kevin McCormick (bass), featuring Cindy Mizelle vocals. Saxophonist Branford Marsalis is featured on a new recording of the Lofgren-Reed composition “City Lights.”

Lofgren and Reed wrote a clutch of songs which appeared on their 1979 albums “Nils” and Lou Reed’s “The Bells“, but these six songs weren’t all that the duo wrote together. After Reed’s death, Lofgren excavated the songs that weren’t recorded at the time, adding six new tunes and a version of “City Lights” — originally from “The Bells” for good measure. Tracking live in his home studio with drummer Andy Newmark and bassist Kevin McCormick, Lofgren achieves a lean, sinewy sound that gives the tight group plenty of room to roam, and they occasionally do, stretching out the title track to seven minutes and “Cut Him Up” to six. Such a concentration on a muscular band dynamic naturally moves “Blue with Lou” closer to Lofgren’s camp than Reed’s, but the latter’s DNA still shines through in both the rhymes and rhythms.

This song is so beautiful and sad that it can be tough to listen too. It’s so painful to lose a dog. The love and companionship that one cerebrates throughout life with a beautiful loving dog can be so hard to let go of. You can hear it in Nils voice on this one and we can all relate to it. The song “Remember You,” was released on Nil’s album “Blue With Lou“. The album was released in 2019. It’s as an album filed with songs written by Nils Lofgren and Lou Reed. You need to own this one.

Lofgren’s originals may not carry the same swagger, but when they’re surrounded by these Reed co-writes, they’re given a slight lift: the whole affair simultaneously feels like an affectionate tribute to a departed friend and a resuscitation of Lofgren’s gut-level rock & roll.

Lofgren’s work with Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen is well known, but his 1979 collaboration with Lou Reed is less heralded. Although he didn’t play on the record itself, Nils co-wrote three tracks on Reed’s album “The Bells”, including this tribute to Charlie Chaplin.

“Weathered”

A “Live” double album recording of rare full band shows from Nils Lofgren on his most recent U.S. tour. For the first time in over 15 years, with a full rock band of dear friends, Nils Lofgren hit the road with a new album, “Blue With Lou“, featuring songs co-written with Lou Reed. Every town, club, staff and audience played a part in these live recordings, inspiring the band every night. Audience and band alike sharing their souls, gifts, spirit and energy make for a fresh, new live sound for Nils.

Features Nils Lofgren on vocals, guitars and keyboards, Tom Lofgren on vocals, guitars, keyboards and percussion, Kevin McCormick on bass guitar and vocals, Cindy Mizelle on vocals and percussion, and Andy Newmark on drums and groove.

Includes reworked classics from Nils’ vast catalogue, new live recordings from his most recent studio album, and a few choice cover renditions, including Nils’ brothers Mike and Mark addition on “Mind Your Own Business” and a tasty jam intro to “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”, leading into his classic, “I Came to Dance”.

The Albums:

Nils Lofgren (A&M)

Back It Up!! (Live) (A&M)

Cry Tough (A&M)

I Came to Dance (A&M)

Night After Night (Live) (A&M)

Nils (A&M)

Night Fades Away (Backstreet/MCA)

A Rhythm Romance (A&M)

Wonderland (Backstreet/MCA)

Flip (CBS)

Code of the Road (Live) (Towerbell/CBS)

Silver Lining (Rykodisc)

Crooked Line (Rykodisc)

Live on the Test (Windsong) (UK-only release)

Damaged Goods (Pure)

Acoustic Live (Vision)

Breakaway Angel (Vision)

Nils Lofgren Band Live (Vision)

Sacred Weapon (Vision)

The Loner – Nils Sings Neil (Vision)

Old School (MvD)

Face the Music (Box set) (Fantasy)

Blue With Lou (Cattle Track)

Weathered (Live) (Cattle Track)

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