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Musician: Nils Lofgren

Audio CD (December 6, 2011)



2011 has been a very good year for legacy artists who can put out hot new music and still, as Nils Lofgren demonstrates, be “old school.” As he sings in “60 Is The New 18,” old-timers can still rock while being reflective, ruminate while treasuring the present, and teach the young ‘uns a trick or two about burning the house down. Once upon a time, such rockers were described as “speaking for a generation”; Nils is playing for that same generation who are now hopefully wiser, more mature, but with plenty of chops to keep the heart pumpin’ and the body jumpin’.

Lofgren, of course, has a musical legacy that reaches back decades including work with Neil Young, Ringo Starr, and a long-time term with the E Street Band.   He’s issued 36 solo projects to date although Old School is his first full album in six years. It’s very clear he has age on his mind, and some reviews point to the deaths of E Street saxophonist Clarence Clemons and organist/keyboard player Danny Federici as inspirations for Lofgren’s new songs. True, the 12 tracks on Old School are often lyrically dark with regrets and an awareness of time passing. On the other hand, the theme of the set is an electrified affirmation of life, no matter how mixed a bag one’s past might be. 

The collection kicks off in high gear with “Old School” featuring   vocals from Lou Graham of Foreigner. Yes, the imagery describes how hard times have come, but the guitars and band crank out a deeper story—there’s triumph in these old bones. That theme continues with “60 Is The New 18” before Lofgren gets more sentimental with “Miss You Ray.” This one is a soft tribute to Mr. Charles and other personal influences with acoustic picking, brushes on snares and violins underscoring the sadness of the lyrics. nods to The Boss are evident in the vocal delivery for “Love Stumbles On,” one of Lofgren’s songs in which the world outside is terribly wrong but it can’t destroy love. On the other hand, in the country-flavored “Amy Joan Blues,” sharing vocals with Paul Rodgers, it’s the singer who’s “damaged and blue” inside. Whatever might be going on internally, both singers seem to be having a goodtime talking about it.

Lofgren has his share of lost lovers whom he addresses in ballads like the piano-based “Irish Angel,” the only song not written by Lofgren but, in this case, by Bruce McCabe.

 “When You Were Mine” Taps into Springsteen’s softer storytelling side

where Nils hopes the lady in question will come back while “we still got skin and eyes.” But in “Let Her Get Away,” co-written with Root Boy Slim, he sings the past is just

 that—another lover has now filled the void. The memory, after all, “is now just a song.” These days, as he claims In the anthem “Just Because You Love Me,” life can be damned good.

Lofgren’s words paint on a wide canvas and not all the songs have to do with the opposite sex. With nods to Neil Young by way of “All Along the Watchtower,” Lofgren and Sam Moore (of Sam and Dave) duet on a rocking call to get well, brother, because “Ain't Too Many Of Us Left.” Likewise, using interesting contrapuntal rhythms, in “Dream Big,” “Your best can be good enough” if you "Dream big, work hard, stay humble." and “dance a lot.” The album concludes with the one track that really aches with age, the beautiful “Why Me.” It’s another nod to Neil Young’s grungy guitar fuzz supporting lyrics about a performer filled with wanderlust wondering if there’s hope in his catastrophes. After all, his soul is filled with “litter, damage, and debris.”

While produced in Lofgren’s home studio and the performances were mostly live with little over-dubbing, Old School sounds polished and mixed with surround-sound listening in mind. Lofgren’s raw vocals stand out amidst his virtuoso electric, slide, and acoustic guitar work, not to mention fine playing on the Dobro. This is old school rock built with new technology and the result is of a very high quality. Intelligent and heartfelt songwriting with musical settings crafted by a master means Old School is an education in the most pleasurable of classrooms.  

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