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Review: Nils Lofgren, “Face the Music”

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Nils Lofgren - Face the Music Contents

I. See What a Love Can Do

Nils Lofgren was just seventeen years old when Neil Young called upon him to play piano on his third solo album, After the Gold Rush. The guitarist, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and onetime child prodigy joined Jack Nitzsche and the men of Crazy Horse – Danny Whitten, Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina – on an instrument which was largely unfamiliar to him. He added the understated, stark and raw piano parts that Young and producer David Briggs were looking for, and also supplied harmonies and acoustic guitar to the Top 10 album. Young had discovered Lofgren with his band Grin, and Lofgren would parlay his credits with Young into a deal for the band. Though Grin disbanded in 1974 after just four albums, Lofgren’s prolific career hasn’t let up since. Over 20 solo records have followed, as well as guest appearances, soundtrack recordings and various one-offs, not to mention membership in Bruce Springsteen’s legendary E Street Band since 1984. The Detroit native hasn’t yet penned an autobiography, but as a chronicle of the story of his life, chances are one wouldn’t top the massive new box set from Concord Records dedicated to his singular career. Face the Music encompasses 9 CDs and 1 DVD, all in service of an artist whose own music has long taken a supporting role to higher-profile music with the likes of Young and Springsteen. The limited, numbered edition, compiled and annotated by Lofgren, is a quirky yet personal journey with a true musician’s musician.

By the numbers, Face the Music features 169 audio tracks, 40 of which are previously unreleased, and 20 video clips, along with a 132-page softcover book – in other words, a whole lotta Lofgren. It’s far too sprawling to serve as an effective introduction to Lofgren’s art and career, but then, that isn’t the point, is it? For longtime fans who have followed his career, with and without Grin, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen, Face the Music is manna. Those fans should carve out the time to explore this set in depth, as it’s not designed for casual listening and is best experienced in chunks, one disc at a time. Following Dave Marsh’s introduction, Lofgren provides comprehensive liner notes – blending autobiography (“I was born in Chicago, on the south side, June 21, 1951,” they begin) with recollections about each and every album represented, plus track-by-track commentary. Testimonials from Lofgren’s famous friends – many of whom are, of course, present on Face the Music – are also included.

Sensibly, the set is organized in chronological fashion beginning with a disc of 21 prime cuts from Grin. (This would be the most comprehensive single-disc Grin compilation available, though there’s one notable omission.) The second CD chronicles the beginning of his solo career and collaborations with producers Briggs, Al Kooper and Andy Newmark from 1975-1977, with the third CD covering 1979-1983 and notable works with co-writers Lou Reed and Dick Wagner, producer Bob Ezrin, and even a guest appearance by Del Shannon. Disc Four commences in 1985, around the time Lofgren began his tenure with E Street, and continues through his two Rykodisc albums from 1991 and 1992; Young, Springsteen, Levon Helm and Ringo Starr all drop by. The next three discs feature the least well-known material, recorded independently of the major labels between 1993 and 2011. Lofgren was completely free to follow his muse, releasing film soundtracks, live albums, and studio efforts including a tribute to Neil Young. Bonnie Bramlett, Willie Nelson, Paul Rodgers, Lou Gramm, Sam Moore (of Sam and Dave) and the duo of David Crosby and Graham Nash show up along the way. The final two discs are dedicated to completely unreleased music – “songs, demos, obscure tracks left behind from recording sessions, back rooms and basements,” as Lofgren describes it. These odds and ends date as far back as the Grin days and feature oddities like tributes to Yankee Stadium and The Washington Bullets from the longtime sports fan, and a song inspired by Lofgren’s close pal, the author Clive Cussler. As is always the case with anthologies, it’s not inconceivable that a favorite track might be missing, but Face the Music admirably covers all of the bases.

Plug in with us after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

August 21, 2014 at 13:32

Release Round-Up: Week of August 5

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Elvis - That's the Way It Is BoxElvis Presley, That’s the Way It Is: Deluxe Editions (RCA/Legacy)

The King regained his crown with a 1970 stint at the International Hotel in Las Vegas, as depicted in the acclaimed documentary of the same name. A new box set features the original album on CD along with seven recorded live shows plus that documentary in two separate cuts on DVD; the documentary bows on Blu-ray next week.

8CD/2DVD box set: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
2CD Legacy Edition: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
TTWII Blu-ray: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Nils Lofgren - Face the Music ContentsNils Lofgren, Face the Music (Concord)

An impressive 9CD/1DVD box set celebrating the singer/songwriter/guitarist’s multifaceted career when not jamming in The E Street Band for the last three decades. Includes two whole discs of unreleased material! (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Chairmen of the Board BoxChairmen of the Board, The Complete Invictus Studio Recordings 1969-1978 (Edsel)

The Detroit soul group behind “Give Me Just a Little More Time” gets a deluxe box set featuring all of their group and related solo studio albums plus two discs of bonus cuts and rarities. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Herbie Hancock - WB YearsHerbie Hancock, The Warner Bros. Years: 1969-1972 (Warner Bros./Rhino)

Before his lengthy tenure on Columbia, Hancock cut three albums for Warner Bros.; they are now compiled in one set with five rare and unreleased single sides. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Stephanie Mills For the First TimeThe Waters, Watercolors: Expanded Edition / Stephanie Mills, For the First Time: Expanded Edition / Lenny Williams, Rise Sleeping Beauty: Expanded Edition / Boys Town Gang, Disco Kicks: The Complete Moby Dick Recordings (1981-1984) (Big Break Records)

Big Break Records and sister imprint Hot Shot have a number of deluxe editions on tap this week including an expanded edition of Stephanie Mills’ 1975 Motown album For the First Time, which marked songwriter-producers Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s only sojourn to Motown – and their final full-length LP together!

The Waters: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Stephanie Mills: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Lenny Williams: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Boys Town Gang: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Written by Mike Duquette

August 5, 2014 at 08:30

Nils Lofgren “Faces the Music” with Massive, Career-Spanning 10-Disc Box Set

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Nils Lofgren - Face the Music CoverThis Thursday evening, Nils Lofgren joins the esteemed ranks of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers when he’s inducted into the institution as a member of The E Street Band. But Lofgren’s work as one of Bruce Springsteen’s resident axemen is only one facet of his exhilarating 45-year career in music. On May 27, 2014, Fantasy Records will deliver the ultimate celebration of Lofgren’s creativity and longevity with Face the Music. This definitive 9-CD/1-DVD box set contains 169 tracks drawn from Lofgren’s major-label and independently-released solo albums (including with his early band Grin), not to mention his own archives. Two of the CDs feature 40 previously unreleased recordings, while the DVD includes 20 diverse video clips.

The Chicago-born singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist had been immersed in music since his childhood, and was still in his teenage years when Neil Young called upon him to add piano and guitar to his now-classic 1970 album After the Gold Rush. It began an association between Lofgren and Young’s music that continues to this very day, and the young musician even briefly joined Crazy Horse, playing on the 1971 self-titled album by Young’s frequent collaborators. Lofgren’s own band, Grin, recorded four well-received albums of melodic yet edgy rock-and-roll between 1971 and 1973 on the Epic and A&M labels, before Nils launched his own solo career with 1975’s eponymous debut on A&M.

That solo career has lasted to this very day, even as Lofgren continues as a member of The E Street Band, a position he has held since 1984. Between 1975 and 2011, he’s released over twenty solo albums on labels including MCA, CBS, Rykodisc and his own Cattle Track Road Records. Many of these recordings are difficult to find today; as Lofgren notes in the press release for Face the Music, “If it takes 45 minutes of work on the Internet to find one track from 40 years ago, that’s not really available in my eyes.” Needless to say, many of Lofgren’s friends dropped in during his studio sessions, and so the box set features contributions from such luminaries as Young, Springsteen, Ringo Starr, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Levon Helm, Al Kooper, Buddy Miles, Aynsley Dunbar, Willie Nelson, Lou Gramm and Sam Moore of Sam and Dave. A testament to Lofgren’s prolific songwriting, the box also makes room for songs co-written by Lofgren and the late Lou Reed as well as with Alice Cooper’s associates Dick Wagner and Bob Ezrin.

Lofgren himself was instrumental in selecting the 169 tracks, stating, “[Fantasy parent Concord Records] had their good ideas, and then they said, ‘It’s your boxed set, so you pick.’ They asked me to make the final choices and decisions, including every song.” Grin is represented with such tracks as “Like Rain,” “White Lies,” “Slippery Fingers,” and “Beggar’s Day” (the last of which he also recorded with Crazy Horse), plus solo tracks like “Back It Up,” “The Sun Hasn’t Set,” “You’re the Weight,” “Incidentally … It’s Over,” and “Dreams Die Hard.”  Of his later-period material, Lofgren has tapped his records of original compositions plus live recordings, the soundtrack to the 1993 film Every Breath, his 2001 all-instrumental release Tuff Stuff! The Best of the All-Madden Team Band and 2008’s The Loner, a tribute to his longtime friend Neil Young. Besides the stellar Young covers of favorites like “Mr. Soul” and “I Am a Child,” there are also songs from Del Shannon (“I Go to Pieces”) and Bruce Springsteen (“Wreck on the Highway”).

The two CDs of previously unreleased music starts with Lofgren’s pre-Grin days with Paul Dowell and the Dolphin, and also features never-before-heard nuggets from Grin. Lofgren says, “The piece de resistance for me was finding an old master tape of Neil Young singing and playing piano on ‘Keith Don’t Go’ with Grin, and getting his permission to use it after we remixed it.”

After the jump, we have much, much more on Nils, including the complete track listing and pre-order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

April 8, 2014 at 10:35

Hip-o Loves Lofgrin

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A late announcement for readers: Hip-o Select has begun taking pre-orders for another reissue from Nils Lofgren.

Since 2007, the label has been remastering and reissuing the solo works of Lofgren, of course best known as one of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band members for the past quarter-century. Thus far, his original band Grin’s final LP, Gone Crazy (1973) and solo efforts Nils Lofgren (1975), Back It Up!! Live-An Authorized Bootleg (1975) and Cry Tough (1976) – all originally released on the A&M label, have been put back into print by Hip-o Select.

That reissue trend continues with I Came to Dance (1977), a solid pop-rock effort featuring a cover of “Happy,” from The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St., as well as contributing vocal turns from R&B singers Patti Austin and Luther Vandross.

The usual pre-order link is here, and the track list can be read after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

May 29, 2010 at 00:16

Posted in News, Nils Lofgren, Reissues