It’s been a long time since we’ve had a great new album by the great guitarist, songwriter and member of no less than two legendary rock bands — Neil Young’s Crazy Horse and Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band — Nils Lofgren.
Don’t get me wrong, he’s put out some good albums in the interim but none of them really stuck with me like his 1985 album Flip did. Given that Nils raised the bar pretty high early on in his career with some legendary songwriting — such as the then-timely radio friendly hit “Keith Don’t Go” from 1975 — some of us older fans have great expectations.
In the late 1970s Nils collaborated with Lou Reed, the results of which were sort of scattered across a number of different recordings of by both artists. So unless you were intimate with Lou Reed’s album The Bells (1979) and Nils’ self titled album from that same year and 1995’s Damaged Goods, chances are most of you have not heard the songs.
As it turns out there were several other additional tracks from that collaboration which never saw the light of day and Nils has finally decided to finish up those songs up, partly the basis of his new album called Blue With Lou. There’s much more to this record than just those collaborations, however.
At the heart of Blue With Lou is a great band that Nils assembled to work up the songs, all record in his garage home studio. In the finest Crazy Horse tradition, these songs rock madly and have that wonderful tight-but-loose feel that can only be generated by a group of musicians who are intimate with one another and the music they’re playing.
And intimate they are: Nils has played with drummer Andy Newmark and bassist Kevin McCormack for decades. These guys are kindred spirits and that comes through in the music which rings true as authentic as authentic rock ‘n roll gets. All that great playing would be for naught if the songs were forgettable.
Happily, Nils seems to have found his melodic muse and those melodic hooks ‘n riffs he’s been known for — but not often celebrated — are back! A musician’s musician, the reason Nils is in bands with Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young is because he’s a brilliant guitarist with a distinctive sound and technique. You get that all over Blue With Lou but you also get some great songs!
Tracks like “Attitude City” and “Rock or Not” deliver genuine ear-worms you’ll be tapping your toes or steering wheel as you rock along with Nils and his band. This album is a great one for driving on the highway, by the way.
Blue With Lou is not without its soft spots though. There are touching moments including a tribute to Tom Petty (“Dear Heartbreaker”) and seemingly simple references to the great filmmaker Charlie Chaplin. “Talk Thru The Tears” mashes up chord progressions akin to John Lennon’s “Starting Over” and “Isolation” with melodic springboards from Chaplin’s classic “Smile” (which itself is apparently based on melodies from Puccini’s Tosca!).
I don’t know if this is a bit of conceptual continuity but Chaplin comes up in the lyrics to “City Lights” his legendary film from 1930; Lou Reed previously recorded this song for his 1979 album “The Bells” but this new version is much nicer, replete with a refreshingly unusual retro 1950s male choir backing up Nils’ lead vocals.
The kicker for me on this album is the final song which is about Nils’ dog, “Remember You” is a touching sweet memorial that will leave you with a tear in your eye for his “forever friend.” I can so relate to this (click here for my tribute to my late Malamute named Tibet).
If you haven’t listen to Nils in a while, Blue With Lou might be a good album to reacquaint yourself with what he’s been doing. It is also streaming up on Tidal in CD quality (click here for that link if you have a subscription).
If you are a fan of long playing records, Blue With Lou is also available as a two disc set! This (probably) 180-gram dark black vinyl pressing is quiet, well centered and complimentary to the music, delivering significantly richer bass and round mid ranges. The guitars and drums sound fuller on the LP version, delivering more of the punch of the band playing together than the CD. Nils’ electric guitar amplifier tone really benefits a lot from this presentation and his vocals are warmer overall.
And if you’re not familiar with his older material I wholeheartedly recommend you seek out the albums Cry Tough, I Came To Dance, and his self titled debut, Nils Lofgren. Also look for the commercially released version of the album known as Back It Up Live which was initially a highly coveted and collectible promotional album in the mid 1970s — heavily pirated back in the day so beware of counterfeits — which eventually saw official commercial release several years ago. It is a wonderful document of the artist on his ascent to rock ‘n’ roll legend.
Nils and his band are out on tour so you should definitely look for them in your town. And also I remember reading recently that he’ll be playing with Neil Young again soon in Crazy Horse. And… by now many of us now that Bruce Springsteen has just announced a new album coming out this Summer so … perhaps… an E Street Band tour with Nils on board is being planned for 2020!