The real heart of Nils Lofgren’s latest album Blue with Lou (26 April; Cattle
Track Records) can be found in the tender third track Talk Thru The Tears - which
is a reworking of Smile – when
Lofgren croons: “Laugh, though your heart is
breaking…” because in many ways this album is a lament and a tribute to two men
Lofgren misses greatly - Lou Reed and Tom Petty – and one dearly beloved
pet, his dog, Groucho. In some ways it can be seen as Lofgren’s version of
Reed’s classic, Magic & Loss.
Like his colleague and band-mate Little Steven, Lofgren has taken good advantage of the time Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band have been off the road, since the River tour ended in early 2017. Once the tour wrapped, Lofgren entered his home studio in Phoenix, Arizona with bassist Kevin McCormick, drummer Andy Newmark and vocalist Cindy Mizelle. Lofgren has played with so many top bands it is sometimes easy to forget that he is a great leader and frontman in his own right, and his latest album only reinforces that view.
Blue with Lou is full of style and substance; and how could it not be with five of the original songs on it co-written with the great Lou Reed (Attitude City, Give, Talk Thru the Tears, City Lights, Don’t Let Your Guard Down and Cut Him Up). When Lofgren hooked up with Reed through their mutual friend, producer Bob Ezrin, around 1979, they quickly bonded over their love of American football, and this quickly led to a musical collaboration. Reed released three songs from that session on The Bells (1979) (City Lights, Stupid Man, and With You) and Lofgren released a further three on his own eponymous album (A Fool Like Me, I Found Her, and I’ll Cry Tomorrow); but many others were held back until now.
The depth of the album is also apparent in Lofgren’s humanity and social conscience; he sings about the importance of giving (money, time, support…whatever); questions why people need to be super-rich; and comments on social injustice against women. It is not for nothing that in a live performance uploaded to Youtube at the end of May 2019, the words ‘Pro-Choice’ can be clearly seen emblazoned across his forearm.
First out of the blocks is the swaggering and wonderfully rocky Attitude City, which Lofgren says “is about how the rich and powerful are taking over the planet and deciding there’s not room to care about anybody else. Power and money have become a mental illness [and] has bled into our politics.”
Pretty Soon is another excellent track that provides the lead single, a cool video, and Lofgren shining on his Martin D18 acoustic and some lap steel. City Lights is a reworking of Lou Reed’s original, this time with Branford Marsalis adding a completely different twist, with his sax.
The seven-minute title track, Blue With Lou, apparently emerged during a pre-show soundcheck. Lofgren was rehearsing on his Jazzmaster, waiting for Springsteen and the band to join him on stage, when “I just started singing the words ‘blue with Lou,’” he says. “I realized I could turn it into a song paying homage to Lou Reed.”
Dear Heartbreaker uses Tom Petty’s death as a metaphor for all artists whose work outlives them. “Petty’s loss is something that my wife and I talk about daily; it was just a real blow”, Lofgren says. “I started singing this little lyric, then it turned into a verse or two. And I kept getting ideas for it, even though I still wasn’t planning on writing this song. But […] it ended up on the record.”
Remember You, a touching tribute to Lofgren’s dog, closes the album with a sentiment that will be understood by anyone who has ever lost a beloved pet.
The album Blue With Lou revolves around loss but never feels maudlin or over-sentimental, and contains many gems. Lofgren is now off on a tour of the States with his band, and his brother Tom, to promote the album, and hopes to play in Britain later in the year. “It’s been 15 years since I went out with a band,” he says. “We don’t get to play together much and we’re excited to share this music.”