Over the course of an amazing career that is still going strong after five decades – just last week, he wrapped up two years on the road with the E Street Band – you’d think that Nils Lofgren doesn’t have much left to prove.
Lofgren is of course, best known as Bruce Springsteen’s “other” guitarist, ever since 1984’s Born In The U.S.A. tour (his membership in the E Street Band just got him inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame this year), and prior to that, for his work with Neil Young on albums like After The Gold Rush, Tonight’s The Night and Trans.
But in-between those high profile gigs, Lofgren has also quietly built an impressive body of work on his own. Turns out, he has also been even more prolific than many of us thought.
But we’ll get to that in a minute.
As a solo artist, and on major-label albums like the now sadly, long out-of-print Cry Tough, Lofgren flew under the commercial radar for decades. Despite being recognized by critics as being just as formidable a singer/songwriter as he was a guitarist, the albums still didn’t sell. The thing is, once the major labels lost interest, Lofgren kept right on going on his own. Adopting the now commonplace business model of selling his music through his own label (Cattle Track Road Records), and through his own website, Lofgren has released no less than ten solo albums since 1993, in addition to those he has put out dating back to the 1970s’ and further.
Seriously, who knew?
A career-spanning, retrospective Nils Lofgren boxed set covering his work as a solo artist (and outside of his day job with Springsteen), has certainly been long-overdue. But even the most diehard fans may not be prepared for the sheer volume of material that makes up Concord’s Face The Music (due in stores later this summer).
At ten discs and 169 tracks, this is nothing less than the motherlode. In addition to the seven discs worth of music history – from Lofgren’s first band Grin (which he founded in 1968 at 17 years old), right up through 2011’s self-released Old School – there are two discs of rare and unreleased material and a DVD of live performances.
A 136 page fully-illustrated book, edited by noted rock critic and historian Dave Marsh, also effectively functions as Lofgren’s autobiography, written in his own words (including the war stories from the road with Bruce and Neil that one would expect). It also features Lofgren’s track-by-track analysis and testimonials from many of the rock legends he has worked with, including Ringo Starr, Bono and Sting.
Although it may simply prove too much to digest for some (at least in a single sitting), those willing to dive into the wealth of material offered on Face The Music will be richly rewarded for taking the plunge. The songs included were all cherry-picked by Nils Lofgren himself, and despite what you might be inclined to think (and forgiven for thinking it), there are very few clunkers in the bunch.
The highlights here are way too numerous to mention, but a few can be singled out. The near-hits like “Cry Tough,” “I Came To Dance,” “Wonderland,” “Back It Up,” and “Incidentally…It’s Over” are all here of course. There are the songwriting collaborations with Lou Reed (“A Fool Like Me”; “Driftin’ Man”; “Life”), as well as the expected covers of songs from Springsteen (“Wreck On The Highway”) and Neil Young (“Mr. Soul,” “I Am A Child” and “World On A String,” all drawn from Lofgren’s 2008 Neil Young tribute album The Loner).
The rarities included here also yield a few gems. A touching eulogy to Clarence Clemons (“Miss You “C”), also name-checks Danny Federici and other fallen E Street Band comrades. A much earlier recording with Grin (“Beggar’s Day”), that was also intended for inclusion on Crazy Horse’s 1971 debut “solo album,” similarly eulogizes original Horse guitarist Danny Whitten.
But what may be the biggest selling point of this boxed-set (at least for for those who think they already have it all), comes in the form of a previously unheard performance of Lofgren’s cult hit “Keith, Don’t Go,” featuring backing vocals and piano from none other than Neil Young himself.
While a few of the more recently recorded rarities here – with titles like “Old School,” “60 Is the New 18,” and “Ain’t Too Many of Us Left” – may reveal a few things of their own, what Face The Music proves more than anything is that Nils Lofgren works just as well on his own, as he does with others.
First published at Blogcritics Magazine.