Blue With Lou
(Cattle Track Road Records)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Little Steven Van Zandt isn’t the only E Street Band guitarist taking advantage of Springsteen’s sabbatical from the road. Longtime Bruce guitarist Nils Lofgren returns to his days as a guitar toting/trampoline jumping frontman (maybe he’s too old for the mid-solo flips now) to tour and promote this new release. It’s his first solo studio band set in eight years although you wouldn’t know it from the confidence projected on these dozen rockers and ballads, perhaps due to the basic tracks recorded live in Nils’ home studio.
As the disc’s title implies, and the press notes explain in detail, about half these tunes are leftovers from lyrics that Lou Reed gave to Lofgren as part of their short but relatively fruitful late 70’s collaboration. A trio of songs from this somewhat unusual partnership ended up on Lofgren’s 1979 Nils album, another three made it to Reed’s generally underwhelming The Bells set from the same year and a few more found their way to later Lofgren albums.
Regardless of Lou’s input, this sounds like another solid Lofgren set. Opener Reed co-write “Attitude City” is a tough rocker with dated nods to Saturday Night Fever as the only indication of the original year the words were composed. Co-write “Cut You Up” is another mid-tempo corker — a dark, urban tale about a serial killer (“Cut him up/ You got a madness says I can’t be free”) with eerie backing vocals, a shadowy swampy groove from Nils who also contributes some of his distinctive hot-wired guitar. Lofgren’s graceful reggae version of “City Lights,” including male Persuasions-styled backing vocals and Branford Marsalis’ sax, is more organic and natural than Reed’s stiffer recording.
The album’s highlights are two new Lofgren tunes, both tributes to fallen musicians. The seven-minute title track, “Blue With Lou”— the disc’s longest selection and its centerpiece — works a walking bass groove as Nils sings “King of that street corner/ his words slash and lick the pain” and blasts out trembling sheets of stinging guitar that could only come from his hands. The lightly funky “Dear Heartbreaker,” a duet with singer Cindy Mizelle, uses Tom Petty’s passing as a metaphor for all artists whose work outlives their time on earth, over an appropriately gospel vibe. Pet lovers should note the closing “Remember You,” a melancholy homage to Lofgren’s deceased dog that anyone familiar with this wrenching experience will relate to.
Since the total playing time is less than an hour, adding the previously recorded Reed co-written songs as extras would have been a nice touch. Despite the passage of more than four decades from Lofgren’s prime as a medium venue headliner though, little has changed with his youthful sounding voice, sizzling guitar playing, melodic songwriting or overall boyish enthusiasm. That makes this comeback of sorts particularly sweet, irrespective of Reed’s beyond-the-grave involvement.