CD Review of The Loner - Nils Sings by Nils Lofgren
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Nils Lofgren:
The Loner - Nils Sings

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

n recent years, Nils Lofgren’s earned his kudos as a guitar slinger alongside Bruce Springsteen and as an integral part of the E Street band. It’s provided him an ample paycheck, no doubt, but one might venture to say it’s a decidedly subordinate role for a musician with a nearly 40-year career.  Long before he became a hired gun for the Boss’ band, Lofgren held down a similar role backing Neil Young, which found him contributing to the seminal After the Gold Rush album and playing the role of ringer on Crazy Horse’s excellent self-titled debut.

Lofgren would go on to greater glories, of course, not least of which was his own band Grin and the series of early albums that marked his emergence as a singer, songwriter, guitarist and performer (Lofgren’s penchant for back flips remains the stuff o’ legend). But lest anyone forget his tenure with Young, he treats us to The Loner – Nils Sings Neil, a new solo set featuring Lofgren accompanying himself on piano and guitar as he retraces 15 of his former boss’ most memorable compositions.

In a sense, Lofgren is taking on a task that Young could have accomplished himself, compiling an acoustic compendium of songs that trace Young’s trajectory from Buffalo Springfield to the mid-‘80s, a fertile period in which he proved himself one of rock’s most incisive singer/songwriters. But if Young’s personally too preoccupied with assembling that long-promised series of anthologies that have yet to see the light, Lofgren’s take on these tunes will suffice in the interim. His clear, quivering tenor sounds so much like Young’s that if one wasn’t aware, they’d probably not know the difference. Opening track “Birds” is a clear case in point; given the heartfelt delivery, it could easily be mistaken for the original demo. Given the sparse settings and earnest interpretations, the same could be said of any of these tracks.

That’s not a bad thing, of course; if anything the bare-bones approach offers up the essence of these songs and spotlights the gorgeous melodies that inform the best of the best of Young’s extensive repertoire. Certainly there’s no quibbling with the choices – be it “Birds,” “Long May You Run,” “Flying on the Ground Is Wrong,” “On the Way Home” or “Harvest Moon.” That said, one might argue that “Don’t Be Denied,” a song that ruminates with autobiographical detail, seems somewhat out of sync for anyone other than its author. Or that the unadorned arrangements actually distill the insurgent intent of relentless rockers like “The Loner” or “Like a Hurricane.”

Regardless, those would be minor complaints. The Loner – Nils Sings Neil is clearly a work of profound devotion, an effective meld of singer and song is moot. For fans of either artist – and for most, allegiance to one equates with loyalty to the other – this is an album that’s obviously essential.

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