While in the last couple of years Bruce has been more visible on the equestrian scene watching his daughter become a star in her own right, than on the music scene, his trusty band members have taken the opportunity to further their solo careers. Roy Bittan released his first solo album; so did sax player Ed Manion; Jake Clemons toured people’s living rooms; and even Garry Tallent is working on his own album.
And then there’s Nils Lofgren. First he released a monumental retrospective box set called Face the Music, and most recently he’s put his name on a new live album recorded on his January 2015 UK tour, aptly called UK 2015 Face the Music Tour.
The one-disc live album is culled from several shows and therefore is not a concert put to disc. Still, it follows the outlines of a show as they looked on that tour and so is a fine representation of what a Nils Lofgren live performance is like in this day and age.
And what exactly does that mean? Well, in recent years it seems like Nils has mostly given up on band tours. He usually tours solo or, as was the case in January of 2015, with only one other musician, in this case Greg Varlotta on backup vocals, keyboards, guitars and even trumpet and “tap dance percussion”. Nils himself handles the lead guitars, of course, which on this album are mostly acoustic, as well as keyboard and even a lever harp.
Despite the overall acoustic feel of the album, listening to it you never find yourself longing for drums or a pounding bass. Nils still manages to cover a wide range of styles and levels of loudness – and does sneak in a couple of electric solos for the aficionados. From the soft and tender “Girl in Motion”, to a jazzy version of “Walking Nerve” in which the aforementioned trumpet is brought into the mix to great effect, he keeps your attention and makes you realize there’s more to Nils Lofgren than those snazzy guitar parts. Again with the use of a trumpet, Nils even adds a Spanish vibe to the obscure “Rusty Gun”. Only the rocking finale of “Shine Silently” sees a traditional rock instrumentation, which must have been possible only if the duo on stage each played several instruments at once or used a taped backing track.
Not only is the track list a pretty diverse mix of genres and styles, this being a tour in support of a retrospective box set, Nils also covers most of his career during the span of the disc. From a haunting “Lost a Number” of the second Grin album (Nils’ early Seventies band) and “Black Books” found on his mid-Nineties solo album Damaged Goods, to the recent ode to Clarence Clemons, “Miss You C”, you get a good impression of Lofgren’s musical development through the last five decades.
But one of the absolute highlights of the disc is a heartfelt cover of Crazy Horse’s “I Don’t Want to Talk About It” (as in Neil Young’s band, only at that time without Neil), made famous by Rod Stewart. Nils claims it as his own, and he made a good decision to include it on this live album.
Of course, as will always be the case with Nils Lofgren, the main attraction is his guitar playing, and despite detours into various other genres and instruments, guitar fans won’t be disappointed. As the really awesome-looking album cover suggests, we get enough of his characteristic and equilibristic finger-picking and exercises into the art of soloing, both acoustic and electric, to satisfy us. And that makes it easy enough to forgive the omissions of songs like “Valentine” and his cover of “Because the Night” that those of us who mainly know Nils through his Bruce Springsteen connection might have wanted to hear.
The UK 2015 live album is scheduled for release on November 13 and will be an excellent soundtrack to your work commute in the next few weeks as we wait for the Ties that Bind box set.