Nils Lofgren was only 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. The Chicago-born musician’s association with Young announced him in a big way, launching a career that flourishes to this very day. Lofgren served a brief stint in Crazy Horse, playing on that band’s 1971 album, and with his own band Grin recorded four well-received albums between 1971 and 1973 on the Epic and A&M labels. It was in 1975 for the latter company that Lofgren launched his own solo career. Real Gone Music has recently reissued the self-titled Nils Lofgren album, a.k.a. the “Fat Man” album, in a new edition (RGM-0360).
Co-produced by Young’s frequent collaborator David Briggs and recorded in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Falls Church, Virginia, Nils Lofgren featured the eponymous artist on acoustic and electric guitars, piano and organ, joined by Wornell Jones on bass and The Mothers of Invention’s Aynsley Dunbar on drums. Despite having released over 20 solo albums since, Lofgren writes in his brand-new liner notes that he considers his first “still one of my best.” Indeed, the album has proven to be not just a vibrant and inspired debut but one of Lofgren’s strongest and most consistent collection of songs ever, boasting twelve tracks of spirited rock and roll crafted with a pop tunesmith’s flair.
Though Lofgren introduced the album showcasing his liquid guitar chops on the brief, under-a-minute caution to “Be Good Tonight,” the “Fat Man” album is as beholden to pop as it is to rock, with its accessible, melodic and tight songs. This stylistic point is driven home by the album’s closing track, a strong rendition of Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s classic “Goin’ Back” – associated with artists from Dusty Springfield to The Byrds – which he made his own.
Lofgren writes of his mornings walking up California’s famed Pacific Coast Highway to a local Polynesian bar in Malibu Colony, drinking Zombies and listening to Ray Charles to prepare himself for an afternoon’s writing session. Indeed, the breezy and laid-back California spirit is intertwined with the blues on Nils Lofgren, not to mention the country-rock influences of friend and collaborator Neil Young (who gifted him with his Martin D-18 on which he wrote much of the album). This blend of styles shines on tracks like “Back It Up” and One More Saturday Night.” Still, those looking for edgier fare weren’t left out, either. Electric blues-rock licks enhance the tough “Can’t Buy a Break,” and a harder rock sensibility suffuses “Rock and Roll Crook.”
Though he’s justly renowned as a guitarist, Lofgren penned a number of the album’s songs on piano. He utilized the instrument to anchor the swaggering “If I Say It, It’s So,” the loose “Duty” and the rollickingly upbeat slice of autobiography, “The Sun Hasn’t Set (On This Boy Yet).” His piano also drives the sinuous and moody “I Don’t Want to Know,” on which Young’s vocal influence is readily apparent. You might also hear a bit of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Fever” in this track – surely a coincidence, but moreover, an omen of how apt an addition to The E Street Band Lofgren would become in the following decade. (He, of course, remains with Springsteen’s legendary outfit today.)
The most enduring track on Nils Lofgren, however, is undoubtedly “Keith Don’t Go.” Written by Lofgren while on the road with Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night tour, the song was subtitled “Ode to the Glimmer Twin.” It immediately became a favorite in the budding Lofgren songbook. A “right away letter…straight to my main inspirer,” the heart-on-its-sleeve song pled with the Rolling Stone to conquer his demons. “We miss our father Jimi/It’s hard to breathe with that loss/But I still got you, brother/Don’t nail yourself to a cross,” Lofgren implored over a blazing track worthy of the Stones themselves. Keith Richards has, of course, long established himself as the quintessential rock and roll survivor, but the younger artist’s composition remains a heartfelt and touching snapshot of a moment in time when the thought of The Rolling Stones touring in 2015 would likely have been impossible to imagine.
Hot on the heels of last year’s massive Face the Music box set chronicling the whole of Lofgren’s career as a solo artist and bandleader, Real Gone’s reissue of Nils Lofgren couldn’t have come at a better time. His liner notes enhance the stellar package which restores this seminal, too-long out-of-print title to the catalogue. Forty years later, the sun still, happily, hasn’t set on this boy yet!