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By David Werther.

Nils Lofgren, The Loner: Nils Sings Neil (2008)

           Many listners know Nils Lofgren as a crack guitarist in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. But before Bruce recruited him, Nils earned critical praise for his solo work, especially his self-titled CD, and played in the bands Crazy Horse and Grin.

           The big break that helped open all of these doors came when he was seventeen. The teenage Lofgren managed to finagle an audience with Neil Young. Captivated by Lofgren’s energy and enthusiasm, Young handed him a guitar. Impressed by his playing, Young then gave him his first session work, having him play piano and guitar on what would become a classic, After the Gold Rush. After the sessions, Young gave Lofgren a Martin D-18 as an expression of his appreciation.

           With The Loner, Nils repays a debt of gratitude. He recorded all of the songs solo on either piano or the Martin D-18. The CD opens with “Birds,” one of two songs (the other is “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”) from After the Gold Rush. There is a stark, haunting beauty in Lofgren’s singing and playing that makes “Birds” the high water mark on the CD. The currently little heard “Flying on the Ground” is a standout guitar track. Other early Young songs are: “On the Way Home,” “I am a Child,” and “Mr. Soul.” Half of Nils’s selections are “deep cuts.” These include “The Loner,” “Winterlong,” and “Don’t be Denied.”

           Lofgren’s singing, accompanied only by either his piano or guitar playing, serve Young’s songs well. They uncover the beauty-in-simplicity characteristic of his best writing. Young’s instincts were dead-on when he gave a break to an enthusiastic teenager, as are Lofgren’s in this sonic tribute.

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